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Provocative Ideas:
Images and Metaphors

Some Questions Concerning Images of Organization:

An Interview With Gareth Morgan

An edited transcript of a teleconference with Dr. Gareth Morgan and the University of Alberta doctoral students in Educational Administration hosted by Dr. Gene Ratsoy and Beth Perry, November 7, 1996.

Gene -- We're wondering what's new in the new edition of Images?

Gareth -- The revision has proved an enormous task.

In a nutshell, the main changes focus on developing the role of metaphor in organization theory and management and on new ideas about the brain, chaos and complexity.

I am particularly pleased with what I have been able to achieve in these areas of new development, which have been the big growth areas since the 1986 edition. I have been able to systematize many of the important insights around the nature of learning organizations (in the chapter Organizations as Brains), and have done an extensive job updating the implications of the new theories of chaos, complexity and emergent self-organization (Chapter 8), along with an update and extension of the significance of dialectical analysis for understanding many of the big contemporary problems facing organizations.

I have also given considerable attention to updating and refining the method of organizational analysis, originally offered in Chapter 10 of the first edition. I have been able to capitalize on my research over the last ten years, and also make strong links to the methodology of organizational analysis offered in the sequel to Images: Imaginization.

These account for the major changes to the nature of the book.

Other changes are more of the "updating variety." I have made additions to my analysis of culture, politics and the psychic prison, and recent developments around the theme of domination.

The result, I hope, is a really lively statement on the nature of contemporary organizational analysis coupled with the fundamental challenge of Images: that the challenge facing management and students of organization generally is to understand the role of metaphor in the construction of theory and practice.

I hope that it will be seen and received as a completely contemporary book, preserving the qualities and strengths of the original version, while presenting insights on today's challenges.

Dave Van T -- Good morning Gareth. I am curious in a broad sense whether there is a particular metaphor that seems to apply to schools and in particular leadership in schools and the role of the principal.

Gareth -- Obviously the idea of the learning organization is one that we would like to see working in the school context. I don't have a preferred metaphor for a particular situation. My whole approach to understanding organizations is that we have to find a metaphor that will really give us leverage for what we want to do. The whole idea of creating schools that are learning organizations is powerful, but from what I know about schools and school leadership, I like to go back to the cultural metaphor.

If we can create cultures in our schools that are built around the shared energies and shared values of trying to generate learning, create collaboration, break boundaries between school and home, create communities that celebrate accomplishments, nurture individual accomplishments and value diversity, that is an incredibly powerful way for schools to have an impact on their situations. I know people who have started to do valuable work in this way. It is important to lever the culture metaphor here.

One of the other significant metaphors in school administration is the mechanistic metaphor and the idea that you design schools as a set of obligations and responsibilities among various stakeholders. It gets very legalistic and that takes the life out of things. We have to find metaphors in educational administration that will put life back into these institutions and nurture them in an organic way. If I were to give a minute's advice to a school principal, it would be to create a culture in which learning could flourish and then to mobilize whatever insights that would work in your school around that idea. In making this answer I have woven several other metaphors into the idea of using the culture metaphor.

Dave -- The culture metaphor originated in agriculture, correct?

Gareth -- Yes, it comes from the idea of agriculture and its extension to the development of society, hence cultural development. But, one of my favorite definitions of culture is based on the image of yoghurt. It captures the idea of propagation and reproduction -- which is what yoghurt cultures do and what we have to do in organizations and in our schools. We need to create this ability for vibrant school cultures to reproduce themselves in a way which goes beyond the efforts of the individual principal or teacher.

Kay -- Good morning, My question relates to a gender issue. Just a quick observation about the brief section on gender issues (only two pages in the 1986 edition), and that was in the psychic prison section.

Gareth -- Actually, it was also in the politics chapter where I talked about leadership styles of women leaders, and in my discussion of the patriarchal family in the psychic prison chapter. I felt, at the time, that you could make the argument that organization is very much a male dominated phenomenon. In what I have been doing over the past few months in producing the 1997 edition of Images I faced a big dilemma because you can argue very clearly that gender is a metaphor of organization. It shouldn't be just a part of a chapter. You can argue that organization is gender; that there are gender organizations; that there are male dominated and female dominated organizations in the sense of associated value systems. I don't want to dichotomize too much. You could write a whole book on this...(look for example at the excellent new book by Sylvia Gerhardi on this topic: Gender, Symbolism and Organizational Cultures. Sage, 1995. You could take the whole gender issue and write, as Gerhardi has done, about the symbolism and the creation of meaning, etc., from a gender stand-point. I haven't.

I chose in the new edition to stay with the frame I originally developed in Images (1986) -- because I don't want people to think that the eight metaphors in Images are the only metaphors. I want people to develop metaphors of their own. So, in my new edition, I specifically state that gender can be seen as a whole metaphor on its own while continuing to focus on gender as aspects of the culture metaphor, the politics metaphor, and what I have to say about the psychic prison metaphor.

I am an organizational theorist who sees the shift in organizations towards the new flat, flexible, decentralized organization as a shift from the male archetype to a female archetype. I see, without stereotyping, the values that have been traditionally associated with the female as coming into existence through the network form of organization. There are all kinds of metaphors that can be used to shape organizations in this way. So in the culture metaphor, for example, I now have a discussion of female leadership styles exemplified by Anita Roddick of the Body Shop and the women leaders discussed by Salley Helgessen in Female Advantage: Women's Ways of Leadership. New York: Doubleday, 1990. These "female" cultural styles emphasize non- hierarchical images of webs of inclusion, networks, and other characteristics of cultures that reflect and are shaped by female values. My approach in the new edition of Images is to elevate the importance of gender, but without using the frame of gender as a specific metaphor.

Rob -- Good morning... I would like to go back to the title of your book Images of Organization. I am wondering if you feel there is anything generic that describes the essence of all organizations? Or, are we limited to getting certain images that reflect the perspective one takes on relating to an organization?

Gareth-- This question has got me into a lot of trouble over the years. If I can just review a little history. The whole book Images of Organization was stimulated by the question What is an organization? Gene would know this -- my first book with Gibson Burrell was called Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis and looked at competing world views and their implications for organizations. Although I am an organizational theorist, what these paradigms do is question "What is an organization?" -- is it something that exists concretely? Is it something that is entirely socially constructed? What is it?

So the question "What is an organization?" is the way I got launched into the research that set the basis for Images of Organization and all my other work.

The way I would answer your question against this background is: -- do you want an answer that is ontological -- referring to the state of reality -- i.e. are you talking about the objective existence of an organization? Or are you talking about it epistemologically? That is how we know what an organization is.

Ontological, organizations obviously exist as real entities. They have quasi "objective" characteristics. But our dilemma as human beings is that whatever they are, we can only know them subjectively through the images, frames and perspectives we bring to study them.

I am reminded here of Einstein's quote, "You can't have any observation without a theory because a theory always determines what you observe." It is the same with the way we answer the question that you have posed.

The way we define what an organization is, is going to determine how we observe and understand it. I think that this is our dilemma as human beings.

Although IBM exists as an organization, and there are real people who eat every day as a result of working for IBM, the way we understand IBM is mediated by the images through which we seek to understand it. So given this, it is impossible in my view to have a generic metaphor that describes the nature or essence of organizations.

You can look at organization historically and say, "If you want to choose a metaphor for say the 19th and 20th century, you might select the mechanistic metaphor and conclude that organization is a product of engineering." You might be able to argue that organization has been shaped by mechanistic images; that it has become a mechanistic phenomenon.

But if you look at the past 10 or 20 years then you might have to say that perhaps it is the metaphor of the organic learning organization, or the network, or some of those gender images that were mentioned earlier that are going to capture the defining essence of organizations in the 21st century.

The answer to this question is entirely an epistemological one and dependent upon our social constructions. Even though I have been working on the question for 20 years, I still don't really know what an organization is!!!

Gene -- That is reassuring. Neither do we.

Gareth -- Great. So long as you are confused on a higher level than you were when we started!!!

Kathy -- Good morning Gareth. Actually, you have answered part of my question in talking to Rob. My question relates to the ideal organization. If one exists, how might we describe it metaphorically?

Gareth -- I don't believe there is an ideal organization. But if my house burns down today, then I hope the fire brigade believes in a degree of bureaucracy. There are certain metaphors that are more powerful and useful for doing certain things. If you have a fire you want there to be a hierarchy and clearly understood rules and protocols in the local fire brigade when the fire bell goes. Similarly, with air traffic control. You want something concrete there. There are metaphors that work for certain tasks and activities. But there is no one metaphor that fits the totality of any situation. Even in the fire brigade example, when the fire truck is coming to the fire you hope that the fire-fighters are letting go of the mechanistic stuff, and that they are going to use their competence as professionals to do whatever it takes to put the fire out. One hopes that they will get into a self-organizing mode so that if the fire chief is held up in a traffic jam they are not going to wait... If there are exceptional circumstances one hopes that self-organization will take over. I don't think there is such a thing as one ideal organizational form. There may be many ideal forms in terms of the task you are trying to achieve. This is a simple contingency approach (Chapter 3 of Images). We get trapped by the idea of ideal. There are may best forms.

Conrad -- My question relates to the notion of "learning organizations," which I refer to as "learning communities..." What I would like to seek clarification on is the idea of a learning community as a principle centred entity that, while seeming to functioning on a contingency basis, in fact is operating on the basis of roots and principles that are agreed upon through shared meaning processes.

Gareth -- I like this idea of the learning community and I think that, in many respects, it is better than the idea of a "learning organization." The way I interpret the cultural metaphor is very much around the idea of a community of individuals that value and share key principles.

This whole idea of a principle-centered learning community has very strong links with the culture metaphor. If you try to use culture as a way of shaping and managing organizations, your focus is on the role of vision and values and beliefs and the pattern of shared meaning that is going to hold the culture together. That's what makes culture. If I change the metaphor slightly, it is the "cultural code," the "DNA," the "yoghurt;" the ability of the culture to reproduce itself that is important. There is a cultural code, and that's where values and vision are important: It's not just a question of getting the vision or values on a vision statement, or "up on the walls" or on the pencils in the office, but of making them come alive in the way the community acts and behaves.

So the whole idea of a principle-centered learning community is very powerful and can be implemented through the idea of the culture metaphor.

What one has to avoid is the risk of tying it down to a definitional thing.

I am being provocative here. If you get the principles of the principle-centred organization and write them down, if you aren't careful, you move into a sort of legislated universe which won't produce the goods for you. You have to make the principles come alive through visions and values and lived realities. So you have to watch as you move forward that the principle-centeredness doesn't become a negotiated, intellectual thing, but rather, something that really comes alive.

The image of principle-centered learning is something that is so consistent with the cultural metaphor. The most vibrant cultures are organic self-organizing communities. A lot of this taps into the chaos and self-organization perspectives, because in a vibrant learning organization you can't design form and structure: you can't predetermine the shape of something. You have to create the frame in which a shape can emerge, and that's where the vision and the values come in. You create a context where details and values can unfold. Your metaphor resonates a lot with me. But, make it an evocative one for your teachers and colleagues.

Norm -- My question relates to where you get your ideas and data? I would like you to relate your answer to Chapter 7: the psychic prison, and Plato's cave.

Gareth -- I thought it was obvious where I get my ideas from. I am an accountant. That was my psychic prison! My ideas just come through talking with people and trying to think creatively about issues and problems. I have only really had one idea over the past 20 years and that is that all theory is metaphor.

That is the idea that has driven my work. It is an idea that constantly transforms how I think about and write about organization. It affects my work as a consultant and a teacher.

Once you begin to see that all theory is metaphor and that all your ideas are metaphors then you begin to realize that since metaphor is always false you have never got the right understanding of something.

This is an idea that I develop in the new Images. Metaphor is something that generates insight through distortion. The metaphor of organization as a machine is something that generates insight around goals and objectives. But it is a distortion because the organization has people in it, emotions, passions, politics. So the mechanical metaphor has strengths but it is also a complete distortion.

Once you grasp this you realize you never have the right metaphor. You never have the complete answer to anything. You are thrust into a mode of inquiry, learning and conversation that leads you to open exploration -- to be open to anything, really. That is how I have developed my work.

I can be at a movie or, anywhere -- any experience or idea can have merit. This is how ideas self-organize. Look at my writings on the learning organization in Chapter 4 of Images and the importance of "requisite variety" -- of exposing yourself to a variety of insights that may generate concepts that are appropriate for coping with the challenges you face.

So my ideas come from everywhere... because I am open to possibilities.

That's why I might get an organization to look at itself as yoghurt.

That's an absurd idea. But in the situation where I first developed this metaphor I was trying to show a group of human resource managers how they could get creative. So I had them analyze their organization as yoghurt. They took it seriously and created a very penetrating analysis. There is no intrinsic merit to the idea of yoghurt and I am not about to write a chapter on it in a forthcoming book. But it is an example of the possible. I can take almost any image and get a group to work with it, and find a way of developing the conversation so that it will end up speaking to the reality of their issues and problems.

Rick -- The question I ask comes from doing work on Carl Jung. As you know, he explored myths and mythology and eventually looked at it from a cross-cultural perspective and called it archetypal mythology. The images in Images may emerge from a particular culture (the North American or British culture) both of which are rooted in the English language. Has any work been done trying to discover images that cross all cultures and languages?

Gareth -- Not from an organizational perspective, to my knowledge. Obviously the Jungian perspective is powerful in looking at how we construct reality. There are deep images that may be universal. The fact that the images in Images are mostly American and British is a product of my psychic prison. I am not able to access some of those other images that are out there. -- Some cross-cultural work has been done from the international dimension, and there is no doubt that different cultural traditions have different metaphors. I know there have been people like Ian Mitroff at USC who have one some work on archetypal metaphors. But I don't think there has been an empirical investigation of organizational theory in these terms. It is something that needs to be done and would be very interesting.

However, I am not sure that all my images are North American/British.

If we go to the cultural metaphor in Chapter 4 of Images my discussion brings in the Japanese metaphor of the rice field and of the Samurai -- warriors that serve the community. These metaphors are powerful for understanding the relationships between the Japanese and their organizations and the importance of solidarity and community, and how the banks in Japan actually serve other organizations, not like in North America. There are completely different images that shape Japanese culture.

If you take the critique of Japanese organization from a Western point of view, it is often seen to be hierarchical, and exploitative. I am not trying to deny this reality. But if you go into the Japanese culture and look at it through the rice field or through mutual service perspectives rather than through Western metaphors, then hierarchy isn't hierarchy at all; it is mutual service. Something may look hierarchical since one person is in a position that looks superior to another, but within [Japan] it is not necessarily sensed to be domination. Hierarchy is domination in the West -- but the Samurai warriors served the farmers and they were dependent on the farmers for their rice. They were superior, but they were also servants. Here is a non-Western image that has relevance for organization. Whether it is archetypal or not I don't know. That is one of the interesting directions in which cross-cultural work could go.

Colin -- Good morning Gareth. I have a question for you related to Instruments of Domination. I enjoyed that chapter of Images. Do you believe and find that domination is alive and well and practiced in more subtle ways in North America?

Gareth -- It is interesting in going back into the mid 80s managers and MBA students would always deny the reality of the domination metaphor. It was always seen as an extreme radical Marxian point of view. But it is not an extreme view at all. It is very real. You don't have to be a rampant raving Marxist to see how exploitation occurs in the organizational world today, especially since organizations have gotten squeezed, and workaholism has turned up a screw or two, and people have been down-sized and out-sized. Newsweek recently ran a cover story on what they called "corporate killers." But not workaholism or stress!!! On the cover of Newsweek were the photos of CEOs who had recently laid off up to 70,000 people.

To use Arthur Miller's image of eating the orange and throwing the peel away, as they down-sized, loyal staff were thrown away. Exploitation is alive and well. It is not just confined to the Third World.

The fact that organizations are run in the interests of elites has never been truer -- even though we now have pension-fund democracy. The people who are being down-sized often actually own part of the corporations that are down-sizing them. What new heights do you have to go to to see this theme of exploitation and domination going throughout the corporate world?

I agree with you -- it is powerful and strong and something that needs to be stated and talked about up front.

Organizations have an exploitative influence in the West. But their role in the Third World is even worse. So in the new Images I still make a lot of the role of multinationals in this sphere as well. The exploitation is not due to mean-spirited CEOs -- the label of corporate killers is a little unfair. It is systemic. This is the point that people miss. Exploitation is systemic in the nature of organizations which are driven in the interests of the few. That's the way our corporations are set up. So it is something that needs to be up front and confronted. The ethics of organization attack exploitation in a weak kind of way. Ethics is often presented as a choice, either good ethics or bad ethics. But I think we need to understand the systemic nature of exploitation. This metaphor will become more and more important as we move into the 21st century because of the negative impact of corporations on communities and individuals. The making of winners and losers is a very evident feature of modern life.

You know, one of the things that is interesting about this question and the response I am making: earlier I was talking about the fire brigade and the air traffic controllers and I was into a contingency mode in answering that question. Now you have flipped me into another mode, which is the domination one, and the perspective on organization is completely different. It links into those questions you posed to me like, What is an organization? What is it really?

Organization has all these different dimensions. According to the frame you want to go with, that is what you will tap into. If you want me to go along the domination metaphor route, we probably end up producing a neo Marxian view of organization. Or, if we want to go with the learning community or the cultural metaphor, we will get into something different. All the different dimensions and metaphors are interweaved. Are we producing learning communities in our schools to ultimately produce fodder for the capitalist machine? It is important to tap into these different dimensions to get a good understanding of the phenomenon.

David B -- ...Is an educational organization subject to negative entropic influences, just like a larger system?

Gareth -- Yes. It is subject to the same forces. As I understand entropy it is the tendency for things to run down, to lose energy and for chaos and randomness to rule: like what happens to a neat kitchen after a dinner party! It gets entropic. But the new science -- especially the theory of chaos, complexity, cybernetics and self-organization, is showing another side. There are spontaneous tendencies in complex systems to find new form, to evolve, and to self-organize.

Entropy and the tendency to run down is true for relatively closed systems. But open complex systems can be negentropic. They don't run down. They create new form.

This is what is exciting about the new theory of chaos and self-organization, because it shows us very different organizing principles.

This gives us a ray of hope with regard to what might happen in the 21st century. At the moment we are in the middle of an industrial revolution. The shift from the domination of machines to the electronic universe is well underway. So all the organizing logics we have developed in the 20th century are no longer relevant for the new world. We have shifted into the electronic age and all the dislocation that is going on with the down-sizing and cultural decay, and cut-backs in social services, and even education, is associated with this shift into the knowledge-information age. We have got to hope that in the readjustment that is occurring there will be new forms, new life and new ways of producing. It strikes me as one of the big ironies of our time that we can grow food without human labor. We have mastered the problems of production. But we haven't found ways to get an equitable mode of consumption -- to keep the market going. That's one of the main crises of the late 20th century -- keeping the market going. We are going to China and India - anywhere where there is a new market. The old markets, they are decaying. I am going into an economic image here.

Chaos and complexity theory suggest there will be new emerging forms that will shape society in new and productive ways. The people writing on chaos theory are often in danger of trying to create a new religion that chaos is good so let's create chaos. This is dangerous and an inappropriate interpretation of chaos theory. What we have to do is create new capacities -- for self-organization and learning. And that begins to put a positive spin on the potential of what is happening in organizations at the moment.

Glen -- With my background in medicine I look at your metaphors as lenses of a microscope. In the lab what we look at is dead, and not moving about, so we can always pick the right lens. Organizations are three dimensional and dynamic. So I come back to the question of whether there is a generic or best metaphor to use to get an understanding of them, and whether you see a shift in the way schools are organized.

Gareth -- Yes, on the issue of the best metaphor, I stand by what I said earlier -- there isn't a best metaphor. There are great and powerful metaphors that we can really use to help us.

Schools are changing. If you look at what has happened from the 19th to the 21st century, what was once a quasi-prison structure is today a self-organizing classroom. Self-organization is now the norm in elementary schools. Semi-autonomous work groups are managed by a teacher who is a coach and facilitator. There are different forms emerging. We need to encourage forms that maximize the potential for learning, community building and development.

Let's go to the first part of your question. I think it is really interesting: "putting organizations under the microscope." The whole idea of lenses, points of view, or angles that we can take on situations is a very visual point of view. I have taken the metaphor of "reading organization," which also has a visual bias, to put this into practice. But, it is just a metaphor. The work of Marshall McLuhan, in which I have had a passing interest for a long time, is relevant here. He pointed out the visual bias of modern civilization, emphasizing how it is a product of literacy and of the alphabetic mode, which has led us into symbolic, representational ways of seeing.

The alphabet, whereby you have these strange shapes standing for words and things, is a very reductive, visual mode of understanding, and it creates this emphasis on perspective and points of view.

All this now is under attack as we move into the electronic universe, which is not visual. It is acoustic and has multiple senses working at the same time. It is no secret that a lot of the literacy problems in our schools are connected with the fact that people watch TV and are living in an electronic universe where the visual mode is just one of many modes. Nowadays you have got different modes of perception and appreciation developing at the same time.

This is where I want to take the development of my Images of Organization ideas in the long term.

Indeed, it is what I have tried to do in my Imaginization book. This seeks to break some of the visual biases and get us into a much more oral, integrated mode of understanding. The way I wrote Imaginization is through stories, and storytelling, because this recreates the oral sense. I am not trying to be the scientist giving a point of view. Through the evocation of stories I try to get people to generate new insights.

This is a dimension of my work that I haven't been able to do justice to in my formal writings. For example, I haven't been able to rewrite the new Images in a way that gets me out of a visual mode. It would have meant producing a different book altogether. But it is something I am thinking about and wrestling with. This answer is stimulated by your question about putting organizations under a microscope. It is a visual perspective.

Lori -- Hello, I am reading a book that is called The Knowledge Base in Educational Administration that is critical of the University Council for Educational Administration's attempts to try to develop a knowledge base for Educational Administration. Primarily, the criticism centers around the fact that there are certain perspectives such as gender and race that haven't been included. I am wondering what your perspective is on such a project. Is it desirable and even possible? How does your work contribute to such a knowledge base?

Gareth -- Look at the metaphor of knowledge base. It is very foundational isn't it? It is hooked into the idea of objective truth and knowledge as an entity; as a thing; something that can be defined. If you take knowledge versus learning as two aspects of educational administration, then the more you go to a knowledge base, the more you underplay the importance of learning as a process. You can approach this whole attempt to create a knowledge base from this point of view.

If you are going to take the knowledge base approach, then all feminist, racial and other issues that arise have to be dealt with. But it becomes very cumbersome to include all relevant perspectives. You get into an uncontrollable complexity. If you develop a knowledge base it has to be diverse and it has to respect different values and interest groups.

There must be a better way of getting into this. So what does Images contribute to this? Beware of the way the metaphors lock you into what you are doing. I respect diversity and the need to meet different needs and interests but I get worried when we try to legislate this and try to create the frame that is going to be the frame. In a fluid world the frame changes, and it's got to, and you want something to evolve within the frame. You have to inject a process into this knowledge base approach to keep it from getting too solid and static.

Kirby -- Good morning. A long time ago I read one of your articles on cybernetics an I was interested to see how in Images (1986) you moved on to images of holograms and brains. I was wondering what you have done in the new edition?

Gareth -- Those articles on cybernetics you talk about are still influencing my view of learning. What I have done in the new Images is make a stronger connection with the idea of the learning organization, the notion of emergent intelligence and the idea that the brain is a self-organizing system, captured in the holographic image. The brain manifests these emergent properties.

Let me play the image of the brain out here, and see if we can pull out some ideas. The old image of the brain is that it is a central processing unit -- the controller of the central nervous system, the master planner and coordinator, the black box within the human body. This is the old mechanical model. The view of a centralized intelligence.

The new view of the brain emerging from brain research seems very consistent with the holographic image. There is no central intelligence. The brain is a random, chaotic, self-organizing system that produces patterns from experience that get embedded in its structure. These patterns guide behavior and social life. In terms of the theory of chaos and self-organization this is what happens in all complex systems. Intelligence doesn't exist. It can't be designed or planned. It is something that evolves and emerges. So the challenge in creating organizations that can be brain-like rests in how can you create the parameters for guiding experience, or what I call "minimum specs" -- the minimum rules, values or reference points that can produce an emergent form of organization.

In the new Images I have been able to update the image of the brain, based on the new brain research, although the model is still basically the same as in the 1986 edition. I am so pleased that the chapter in Images on the brain in the 1986 edition captured the core ideas and the notion of designing learning organizations. But I haven't time to get into this here in detail unless someone else wants to build another question around this idea.

Margaret -- My question is around the image of karaoke. I was listening to an interview with Dennis Potter, the playwright, and it came to me. You talked earlier about where you get your ideas and I think we get them from all over the place. This resonated with me because I am interested in the growth and development of people professionally and in particular the development of portfolios and learning communities. I wonder what the image of karaoke says for you.

Gareth -- Actually that is my question for you. What does karaoke say to you? You are asking me what my perception of this image is. But I am interested in how you see this metaphor working.

Margaret -- Well, I'm relating to the idea of "words on the wall" and the push in organizations to write mission statements and slogans: to put pen to paper and say what it really is we believe, when in fact many people don't really live those "words on the wall." And karaoke, my experience with it, was that I was never able to get the words in the right place at the right time and I was never in tune. It struck me that it spoke about the experiences I have had with my staff, particularly with evaluation, where we are trying to get people to say what it is they know about themselves. We are good about saying it, but not in doing it. That's how the image worked for me.

Gareth -- I am always asked about good and bad metaphors. But a metaphor doesn't have meaning in itself. It only has meaning when it is applied to something, or someone expresses or fills out its content. So karaoke for me doesn't have any meaning in that I don't have a personal connection with it. But you have just described how you connect with it. The message I get from what you have said is that it is the experience of being out of sync -- the words and actions are often out of step. Maybe this is a metaphor you could share and begin to open up dialogue around this issue. Maybe you could use it as away of getting others in your organization to talk, by asking, "In what way are we experiencing this karaoke phenomenon? What can we do to pull the words and actions back into sync?" It could be one of those metaphors that develop like the yoghurt example I gave earlier. At first there seems to be no sense on the surface. But if you pursue it, maybe you'll see a lot of meaning. I would be interested to see the strengths and limitations of the metaphor in practice. If there are no strengths and insights in it, it won't be a good metaphor. If there are strengths then your challenge is to find how can you begin to lever the strengths and overcome the limitations?

Margaret -- Is that how you handle metaphor in your own work? You take it out and use it as a starting point for dialogue?

Gareth -- Exactly. The image that I have used that is closest to your karaoke is the one discussed in Imaginization -- the idea of deer hunting. Organizations often go hunting for programs. They bring the programs home and it soon becomes a trophy on the wall. It is like hunting deer. This is an aspect of the words and actions idea. You have the words but there are not actions to back them. Some companies have 20 change programs but they haven't done one of them. That is why people are burning themselves out -- it is one thing after another. Karaoke is another way to get into it. The whole point about metaphor is that it gets you into new space. You can't invent the new organization by talking about it in the old ways. If you want to create an innovative experience for your school you have to get people into new ways of thinking about things -- new space. So that's one possible way I see this metaphor taking you.

Calvin -- You have responded to my question a bit -- talking about things being in a state of flux. You have also expressed a lot of hope. What I haven't heard is talk about the fire brigades that are going to maintain the equilibrium in our society.

Gareth -- That's a very good point. Equilibrium is an interesting concept. But, the only system that can be in equilibrium is a closed system.

The problem nowadays is that we are in a very open system. Technology is thrusting us into a system that is more open than ever before. Communities were once quite closed. Then they were opened up by the train and cars and now by computers and internet and e-mail. We are moving into systems that are increasingly open and complex, and therefore unpredictable. In such systems you can't have equilibrium. You can have quasi-stable states. The new theory of chaos speaks to how systems evolve into new systems. How they are dynamic and changing. How you always have a tendency for new developments to be resisted by old ones. But, increasingly systems don't find equilibrium, and that is why things are uncomfortable for so many people -- because they are waiting for things to settle down again, and they don't! Things just go on into new forms.

We are in the middle of an organizational revolution, the trigger of which is information technology -- a state of gross disequilibrium. This is new territory for human society. Hopefully we will be able to moderate the way things are changing and hopefully we will have governments create key reference points, although they seem incapable of doing so. I think we are into the reality of Chapter 8 of Images, seen as one of the most radical chapters in 1986 and one that I have updated extensively. It is probably the most relevant now.

Michel -- My question to you is on leadership. How does a leader shape the view of an organization?

Gareth -- Images of Leadership!!!! It could be a book in itself. Leadership is itself a metaphor. The leader used to be in the lead -- the first over the hill in battle! It is an image that is appropriate for certain circumstances. But it is an image that may have had its time in terms of shaping organizations, because it implies a hierarchy. The dilemma for the future is that we need organizations that are led but don't have leaders. Who wants to be a leader? Who can be a leader in all this complexity? The role of leadership is about the creation and facilitation of core values. About a sense of vision, or the ability to catalyze people's efforts. A sense of vision and values can provide the parameters for self-organization. Are "leaders" the best people to do this? Or should we look to the role of coach, networker, etc., for providing a sense of vision and direction. We have to challenge the leadership metaphor itself, as away of getting into a new kind of leadership. We have to reframe leadership and its role in organizations.

Beth -- Hi. Your comments about the yoghurt metaphor stimulated another idea in my mind. Do you know what a friendship cake is?

Gareth -- No.

Beth -- It's a similar product to yoghurt in that it is self-reproducing. I think it might have some advantages over yoghurt in that it is sweeter, lacks the bitterness of yoghurt and it has a greater diversity of ingredients. The same idea applies. You apportion a bit of this friendship cake batter to the people in an organization and they add ingredients to create their own cake. So it has similar propagation possibilities.

Gareth -- It's another metaphor that points out the ability to keep things going -- to generate spirit and energy, to be able to tap what's beyond the rational. As a metaphor for creating, affirming and generating, it might have a lot of strength. The friendship cake is different from the machine and there may be a role for it. It is an interesting one. I have never encountered that. How does the cake keep going?

Beth -- You have to feed it. Each person adds to it and makes a new cake. But what was exciting for me was the domino effect. Your metaphor stimulated that metaphor in my mind, and on we go.

Gareth -- Yes. That's what the self-organizing dimension is all about. It is leadership in a new way. We have to unleash the self-organizing capacities. New metaphors may help us create dialogue around this and lead to new insights.

The key isn't to invent metaphor for the sake of invention. The key is to find useful metaphors that allow us to create new knowledge, action and possibilities. Through Images and Imaginization I seek to show how it is possible to generate knowledge that can feed on itself and evolve. These are starting points but the thinking has to continue to evolve.

Gene -- Gareth, we have had a glorious morning.

Gareth -- It's my pleasure. It is always nice to talk in this way.

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