Getting started with metaphor

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Brandon Carlson

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Jun 10, 2010, 2:58:00 PM6/10/10
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So I've been thinking off and on about this topic since I first heard
Joshua "re-introduce" it at the agile conference a year or two ago.

I keep thinking that a truly effective metaphor would transcend the
software and tie directly to the corporate values. Unfortunately, I
haven't even been able to come up with one. How do I get started?
Should I think locally and get one that works for the team first, then
worry about the larger organization? (I'm inclined to say yes) If we
do that and it sticks, then alignment with the corporate goals would
be even more difficult.

Thoughts?

Thanks!
Brandon

Bill Wake

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Jun 10, 2010, 10:19:42 PM6/10/10
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Hi Brandon -
I wouldn't start with the assumption that it is (or should be) the same metaphor all the way up and down, right up to corporate values. (I think Industrial Logic is lucky that its situation is closer to that than most.)
A lot of the words we use in computer science came in from metaphor thinking, as people struggle to explain what's happening. (All the data structure terms such as stack, queue, etc., all the UI terms like window, cursor, etc., and so on.) Sometimes the description covers a bigger range (like IL's music metaphor, or C3's manufacturing line), and gives a better explanation for the whole thing.
 
I think it's more of a case of explaining, looking, thinking, waiting until something clicks. It's like holding a bird - you want to create a space for it, but not crush it by forcing it:)
 
--Bill Wake
--
  Bill Wake   Industrial Logic, Inc.

Brandon Carlson

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Jun 13, 2010, 11:42:35 PM6/13/10
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Bill,

Thanks for your input. I'm thinking that the metaphor really has to be
congruent in some way for it to be effective right? I mean the Rock 'n
Roll metaphor probably doesn't fit for a software product that manages
funeral parlors. :-D

As I understand it, one of the purposes of metaphor is to build the
ubiquitous language. I would think that in order to have a truly
ubiquitous language the metaphor would need to span the corporate
spectrum.

Do you have examples of metaphors that don't match corporate values?

Thanks!
Brandon

Joshua Kerievsky

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Jun 14, 2010, 3:13:12 AM6/14/10
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On Sun, Jun 13, 2010 at 8:42 PM, Brandon Carlson <bca...@gmail.com> wrote:
Thanks for your input. I'm thinking that the metaphor really has to be
congruent in some way for it to be effective right? I mean the Rock 'n
Roll metaphor probably doesn't fit for a software product that manages
funeral parlors. :-D

Hi Brandon,

A funeral parlor might adopt a "Show" metaphor, given that there is usually one star, an audience, plenty of makeup, etc.  :-)

At Agile2009, I noticed some company-level mixed metaphors: like staff at the company's booth wearing sports-themed shirts mixed with a circus-like attraction at the booth, mixed with some other disconnected metaphor.  

As I understand it, one of the purposes of metaphor is to build the
ubiquitous language.  I would think that in order to have a truly
ubiquitous language the metaphor would need to span the corporate
spectrum.

You could have a ubiquitous language without a system metaphor, right?

Do you have examples of metaphors that don't match corporate values?

Hmmm, not coming up with any at the moment, but I'm sure we could find some.  

best,
jk

Brandon Carlson

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Jun 14, 2010, 9:52:01 AM6/14/10
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> You could have a ubiquitous language without a system metaphor, right?

Absolutely. Just thinking that if the product uses a metaphor that
doesn't necessarily jive with the business model then it would likely
fly in the face of ubiquitous language.

Joshua Kerievsky

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Jun 14, 2010, 6:52:00 PM6/14/10
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On Sun, Jun 13, 2010 at 8:42 PM, Brandon Carlson <bca...@gmail.com> wrote:
Do you have examples of metaphors that don't match corporate values?

IBM / Rational make and market their "Jazz" product and use plenty of musical terms to describe it. 

Does that metaphor match their corporate values?   I've never worked there so couldn't say.   

I've also never used Jazz, though I've wanted to give it a try.  Yet it is hard to move away from a best-of-breed open source world. 

best
jk

Brian Marick

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Jun 15, 2010, 12:26:16 PM6/15/10
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Some years back, I was taken with Turner and Fauconnier's idea of blending. I wrote up some material here: http://wiki.cs.uiuc.edu/Visualworkings/Surgeon+Is+Butcher but the site seems to be down and probably no longer exists.

I did a little searching just now, but couldn't find a popularization of the idea. Here's the closest I found:
http://cogweb.ucla.edu/CogSci/Grady_99.html

I mention this because a lot of our thinking about metaphor is I think based on Lakoff and Johnson's conceptual theory of metaphor, which doesn't seem to offer much to grab hold of when you're trying to come up with appropriate metaphors. (It's more about understanding and linking together metaphors that have stood the test of time.) The blending idea seems a little more helpful because of its analysis of metaphors-that-aren't. For example, they spend considerable time answering the question "Why is 'That surgeon is a butcher' an insult?"

FYI


-----
Brian Marick, independent consultant
Mostly on agile methods with a testing slant
Author of /Programming Cocoa with Ruby/
www.exampler.com, www.exampler.com/blog, www.twitter.com/marick

Ward Cunningham

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Jun 15, 2010, 7:03:45 PM6/15/10
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I like it.

I've always wondered if we've expected too little of metaphor, even when we think it is already too hard. 

__________________
Ward Cunningham




Ward Cunningham

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Jun 16, 2010, 12:47:30 PM6/16/10
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I noticed this paper mentioned in the reading list for a Stanford programming languages course:

Dan Grossman, The Transactional Memory / Garbage Collection Analogy. In ACM Symp. Object-Oriented Programming: Systems, Languages, and Architectures (OOPSLA’07), 2007

Dan is using a well developed analogy to suggest how one aspect of software practice might inform another. I think those who find metaphor instructive will enjoy this paper. 

Best regards. -- Ward

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Ward Cunningham




Nat Pryce

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Jun 28, 2010, 6:11:14 PM6/28/10
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If I understand that paper, Blending Theory would suggest that
programmers will create lots of metaphors across the codebase that
each have a small context in which they apply and which will not have
(or need to have) any relationship to one another. And that
programmers will be able to skip from metaphor to metaphor as they
read through the code without really noticing that is what they are
doing.

Looking at some of the systems I've worked on, that seems to be the case.

For example, in a few recent systems, classes that make other APIs
more convenient are named "...omatic" in the style of mid-20th-century
home appliances. So we had Transactomatic objects that make it easy to
perform transactions, Reflectomatic for reflection, Stopomatic for
stopping multiple background activities with one call, etc. (I think
Ivan Moore first came up with the convention, borrowing it from
Wallace & Grommit).

In the system I described earlier that uses a Circuit metaphor,
components in the circuit use "...omatic" objects in their
implementation. If you take the viewpoint that there should be a
single overarching metaphor for the entire system, this makes no
sense: home appliances contain circuits; circuits don't contain home
appliances! But it doesn't seem to matter. The use of "...omatic"
objects inside circuitry doesn't strike one as nonsensical.
Programmers joining projects in which we've used the metaphor have
never had any trouble understanding the intent and have even adopted
the naming convention without needing any explanation.

--Nat

--
http://www.natpryce.com

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