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Discussion Of Metaphors Are Like Lenses Business Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

In study of organization theory, metaphor is very popular. Cliff Oswick (1996) believes that metaphor plays an important role in organization. When we refer to something specific through given words, we have structured reality via a specific way. Organizational metaphor can show the field vividly. Therefore, I agree with the statement of “metaphors are like lenses.”In a sense, modern model of organizational theory comes from Taylor and Weber ‘s organizational metaphor. Fredrick W¼ŽTaylor who is classical managerialist and Max Weber compare organization to machine and compare people in organization to wheel gear and screw. Experts of human relationships compare organization as network and experts of system science compare organization as organism. Purposes of the essay are to review literatures of metaphors and find make comments.

Lakoff and Johnson¼ˆ1980¼‰has defined metaphors, namely understand and experiences one thing through others. People know the new things with the help of the things they have known. About conception of metaphor, Mac Cormac (1985) believes that metaphor is used to activate long term memory in different areas, which is the creative cognitive process, combining with the conceptions which are inconsistent with each other. Mountford (1990) also agrees with opinions of Cormac, and believes that facing to familiar situation and new things, metaphor pass on the similarity through comparison. Metaphor is the important approach to form reality. Through the approach, people know how to understand unfamiliar situation. Metaphor expression can tell people how to deal with the situation. Geertz(1973) argues that metaphor is the scene and situation people built. Black(1993) explains that through some metaphors, people are easy to realize the reality based on metaphor. Metaphor affects people’ life and organizational management.

According to study of Gareth Morgan(1986), major two organizational metaphors are machine and organism. Machine metaphors are to view organization on basis of opinions of mechanistic philosophy, which purposes are to show organizational different parts are associated with each other. Organism regards organization and its structure as lived organic system, which can respond to environment. With change of environment, as organism of environment, organization must adopt to behaviors to adapt to environment. From metaphor of machine and clocks, it can conclude that worker’s metaphor is gears and screws, getting the conclusion that the organization has to sacrifice self-interest for improvement productivity. From these metaphors, classical management theories start to explore component and operation of organization. In these theories, people of organization are no freedom to carry out their opinions. Chester.I.Barnard (1958) agrees with that classical management theories compare organization to bones, meanwhile, he also compare organizational values and ethics to blood and meat. Besides, he also believes that organization shows or reflects people’s habit, cultural mode and unconscious belief. Here, we can see that Barnard values organizational ethical factors.

According to opinions of the general system theory, organizational system thinking believes that organization is total integrated. When mangers manage enterprises, they should regard the organization as a whole. Therefore, the mangers should regard organization as a exact machine. The theories believe that all of people in organization should have same values and interesting. The Morgan(1993) compares organization to machine, organism, human brain, culture and political system. Later, Morgan analyzes the five metaphors in detail. Firstly, organism metaphors, on one hand, explains that segments compose the integer; on the other hand, explains that the integer is regarded as one functional unit, which is the key metaphor in organizational theories of functionalism. In fact, BurnsTom is the first one to explain theory of mechanistic and organic system. Tom believes that mechanistic system is related to uncertainty of organizational environment.

After observation to 20 factories in Scotland, organizational external environment is associated with internal structure. When external environment is stable, organizational internal structure has clear order and almost of decisions is made by top managers.

Under the fast-changing environment, internal organization is very loose, which regulations and rules are easy to be ignored by people. People have to ensure how to do work through system and hierarchy of power is unclear. The management structures are usually to be described by organism organizational structure. With improvement of environmental uncertainty, organization tends to more organic, namely, it means that organizational liquidity is improved, which can adopt to change of external environments.

The fixed mode of modern organizational theory believes that organizations are not complete rational, which are not totally organizational goals oriented. In organization, interpersonal relation, power and politics have important influence on organizational decisions. Therefore, we can see that organizational metaphor uses visual language to describe organizational nature for meet with people’s actual demands. Not only does organizational metaphor combine people and people, at the same time, it also links people and environment. Organizational metaphor is often shown by different image. Of course, organizational metaphor also has functions of taboo, which show managers’ values.

Organizational metaphoric is the important factor for people to study and realize organization and its management behaviors, which use visual language to describe organization and essences of management. William P¼ŽFoster (1986) points out that machine and organism of modern organizational theory have been improved and adjusted by organized anarchy and garbage can model of organizational choice. The major contribution of Karl E. Weick (1996) shows the functions of information in organizational management and describes process of organizational information processing and information communication. In addition, James G. March finds randomness of organizational learning, reflecting that organization adapts to environmental change dynamically through learning. Based on above opinions, March describes organization as changeful garbage can, which includes different problems, ideas, methods, figure and opportunities. Weick and Cohen’s metaphor reveals organizational complexity, illustrating the problems of hyper-modern. Hyper modern refers to occasionality, non-rational and uncertainty existed in organizational management, which does not exclude uncertainty and, but integrates certainty and reason. When Tom J. Peters (2003) analyzes problems existed in current organizational problems, he points out that current Newton organization will be replaced by chaos organization. Major characteristics of hyper modern are to advocate accepting risks and abandoning all kind of coherent theories and important statement, but to seek for development through building sense of identity to acknowledge values of non-rational, uncertainty, occasionality and instantaneity. The important work of hyper-modern theory is Peters’ Liberation Management. Peter puts forward two steps: one is to set well-defined tasks for organization; the second to give employees opportunities to practice. Through permission to fail, employees will find new methods to achieve success. Peter believes that enterprises should not be controlled and supervised strictly. Hyper modern organizational management theories believe that the key successful factors of modern organization theories become more and more unreliable in the management practices. Now, non-rational and uncertainty widely exists in organizational business practices. You will fell reason and certainty of organization is nothing to the people, as well as organizational orders are difficult to control. Therefore, management theory should get rid of physicist metaphors, but accept ecological metaphors. Physicist metaphors are on basis of Newtonian mechanics which values stability and certainty, but ecological metaphors establish on biology which has no obvious structure.

Peters believes that metaphor of machine is the most important to caste system, functional and bureaucracy organization. In 1992, Peters predicted that hierarchy organization will bring to a quick end and he said that post-modern organization should not be designed as pyramid, but carnival gathering place. England Ralph D. Stacey studied in organizational theories discusses relations between organizational system and chaos strategy, as well as approach how enterprises to deal with chaos organizational types. He argues that future strategic network will be strategic network. Based on this, Stacey studies issues of organizational complexity and creativeness, pointing out that organization is a complex evolution system, which is running in stability zone, unstable region and chaos area. When organization runs in stability zone, short-term conduct of organization can be predicted; when organization runs in unstable regions, its short-term conduct and long-term conduct can be predicted; when organization runs in chaos areas, organizational behaviors can not be predicted.

In 1999, Dee W. Hock (1999) of VISA International created the new word “chaord”. VISA International is the first company to use chaord organization. The organization of Charles M. Savage is not powerful centralized structure and command controlled structure.

Through above analysis, it can be seen that metaphor of hyper-modern organization only use others terms to explains the phenomenon again, but not be equal to organizational theoretical paradigm. Therefore, hyper-modern organization metaphor changing into organizational theoretical paradigm needs to be studied and transferred strictly. For example, in hyper-modern organization, some concepts, such as self organization, emergency, attractor, non-symmetry, chaos, self-organized criticality and generative relations, only are regarded as metaphorical complex concept. Currently, these concepts can not be quantized.


Metaphor is used in organization management widely. People should value change of metaphor since it shows understanding and exploration to organizational certainty and complexity. Metaphor can send large number of information, but others approach only pass on limited information. Information expressed by metaphor is easy to understand. Therefore, in organization, metaphor helps to do organization reform, new products’ development and employees’ motivation and so on.

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