Holiday break. Yay! After a good four straight months back in the workplace wearing suits and uncomfortable (ok, elegant too!) shoes, some much-needed pajama time by the fireplace!
Back in the days, holiday break was my absolute get-away time. The reason for the season called for a quick trip someplace where the Glühwein would be plenty, and the spirits held high. But not this time around. No. This year I am cherishing the comfort of our family home, catching up on my reading (and the laundry) while enjoying the company of the three most important people in my life: my Husband, my Son, and our Cat!
The Toddler years of a new Mom are demanding, no doubt. And holiday breaks are no longer about fancy réveillons (at least not for us in this phase). It’s more about spending quality time together, polishing our connection, catching our breaths and baking fresh memories. Driving around in the crowded city and squeezing ourselves into packed overdecorated Cafés simply won’t cut it. I used to do so much more those days. Now all I want is to lay back, reflect on what was, rejoice with what is. I experience this era of doing less as an investment expected to pay dividends in the long run. We are laying the foundations of our home serenity, one cozy holiday season at a time!
Pre-motherhood, our home used to be the ideal place for quick pit stops among activities. Take a bath, catch a bite, and out the door. Our place used to always be neat and clean too! Minimal décor. Designer furniture choices. With minimum effort and a good monthly clean-up service, we were keen to experience what Gareth Morgan would call a Machine Metaphor. OK. Pause: a Meta…what?
In most social sciences directly or indirectly related to communication, Metaphor is a strong term used to explain the multiple uses and dynamics of language. But it’s so much more than a lingual characteristic! As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explain in their book “Metaphors we live by” Metaphor is a fundamental mechanism of the mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because they structure our most basic understandings of our experience, Metaphors can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them! Framing Metaphors as means to trigger an extended perception of a concept is my (personal) definition of (my beloved) Storytelling!
So this guy Gareth Morgan gets how Metaphors make our brains tick, and he dedicated an entire book (titled “Images of Organization“) revisiting on some of the Metaphors people use to describe their workplace. These Metaphors are meant to expose us to new ways of seeing our organizations, ourselves, and people we work with.
On a first read, one gets a sense of the dominant metaphors we use in our daily work-lives. On a second read, one can explore new ways of looking at the organizations we inhabit. On a third read (probably not anticipated by the author), one can extend one’s understanding of the broader environment, building mental Analogies between our workplace experience with our existence as a whole!
Morgan believed that, by knowing the Metaphors we use and the people around us use, we can better work together. I (firmly) believe that, by knowing the Metaphors we use and the people around us use, we can better live together. It’s no use raising walls between our environments and our mental models. At the end of the day, it’s the same brain who’s building them, so why not expand rather than limit our understanding?
And I’m relieved to see voices like my own pollulate and esteemed social influencers like my friend Simon come to discuss work and life as a whole, discarding of society’s dogma to “balance” between the two as “the wrong Analogy“! Simon once tweeted (and, mind you, this was back in 2010, long before he wrote his Infinite Game sensation!) that:
Real work-life balance only happens when work & life cease to be opposing forces and become complementary ones.
Yes! The mentality, the tools, the situations in work and in family life are analogous, therefore transferable. They compliment each other and enhance the experience. So why not Steal Like an Artist and borrow from the Metaphors as well?
Here’s the 8 Organizational Metaphors perceived by Gareth Morgan, which I find transferable to our home-life. Some you may find more juicy (or creepy!) than others!
- Machine | An organization is a series of connected parts arranged in a logical order in order to produce a repeatable output
- Organism | An organization is a collective response to its environment and, to survive, must adapt as the environment changes
- Brain | An organization is a set of functions designed to process information and learn over time
- Cultural System | An organization is a mini-society, with its own culture and subcultures defined by their values, norms, beliefs, and rituals
- Political System | An organization is a game of gaining, influencing, and coordinating power
- Psychic Prison | An organization is a collection of myths and stories that restrict people’s thoughts, ideas, and actions
- Instrument of Domination | An organization is a means to impose one’s will on others and exploit resources for personal gains
- Flux and Transformation | An organization is an ever-changing system indivisible from its environment
Pre-Jason, our home used to be liken to a Machine. Based on Morgan’s idea, those who perceive places as Machines want a profound sense of order and control. Above all, they expect logic and reason to always win the day. Before our son came along, this system was the case, and it worked beautifully. There were straightforward tasks for me and the hubby to undertake, a stable environment, a repeatable outcome, and a focus on precision and efficiency. Needless to say how felt we kicked-ass in our photo- shoot perfect living-room! But Morgan knew better.
As I witnessed first-hand in our newborn days, when the environment evolves and when people crave a greater sense of purpose and human agency, the Machine paradigm fails. Miserably. People (like pre-motherhood Stella) who hold this view think that it’s all a matter of shutting down, replacing a cog, and easily resuming life. In my case I was clearly overlooking how I actually thought and felt about that great Change.
In the post-Jason era, our home processes are much slower. There’s no coffee table in our sitting room, and we have a red toddler driving car parked on the Persian carpet. Picture-ready has given way to whatever-works. We are less concerned with order and more concerned with surrounding ourselves with a functional environment that supports everyone’s growth. A cozy corner for Dad’s video gaming. A warm spot for Mom’s writing. Space for our munchkin to roam around exploring in safety. Change is hereinafter expected, and our experience as a family is formed by how we respond to those incessant shaping forces and blooming factors. Machines are dead, Morgan. Hail our family’s Organism, where adopting and adapting to Change is a constant state of our well-being!
No two families are the same, but give it some thought and I’m pretty sure Morgan’s paradigm could also resonate to your own family. Don’t fret too much if you can’t find a fitting metaphor on the first time round, though. Taking the time to contemplate about your family, it’s dynamic, your place in it and the effect it has on your growth is the valuable action and the take away point from this. Sharpening your awareness of your family and consciously investing in them should be every year’s holiday resolution.
It’s not about the presents. It’s about being present, and wholeheartedly acknowledging your reality. Who cares if some days are so hectic and hard that what your experience can be likened to some of Morgan’s creepy Metaphors like the Political System or (even worse) the Psychic Prison. There’s also these days of calm, of pleasure, of laughs and creativity, where Brain or Culture persist.
At the end of the day, Momma, everything changes. Including you.