During an interview yesterday about this book, I was asked about the role of metaphor.  There are many. 

What I find most compelling in business (and in life) are those truths that apply in more than one discipline.  Calligraphy and Swordsmanship.  Shiva's dance and the movement of the planets.  Why our neighborhoods, from an aerial view, look so much like the circuit boards in our computers.  There is a significance to those synchronous pairings beyond the listing of facts in recipes, formulas, textbooks.  For this reason, systems theory fascinates me as it equally applies to disturbed children and dolphins (Bateson), social policy and informatics (Braman), and provides clarity as we consider the transformation of our networks, which must coincide with the transformation of the organizations that build and maintain them.

Yet, in yesterday's interview, I forgot to mention the most obvious metaphor evoked in The System is a Mirror: the book itself (the writing, production, and marketing of the product) and even its framework (presentation layer, middleware, and foundational systems) is a metaphor for how we should be designing, building, and utilizing the emergent IT services. 

The experiment proceeded in this fashion: each chapter was designed as an independent component (a standalone function, or in combination with other components).  As I continued writing, several important themes (meta-narratives, processes) began to emerge, and it was only in the consideration of the concluding chapters that I fully appreciated the larger entity: book as system as mirror…

Our information systems (cell phones, PDA's, laptops, cable boxes, routers, and all of the data flowing through them) are becoming increasingly complex.  We will, therefore, increasingly rely on the efficacy of metaphor to explain this complexity in a manner that expands, rather than constricts, our dialogue.  It is that subtle transmutation that happens inside the mechanism of metaphor (straw turned to gold, water turned to wine) that offers any chance of explaining ourselves to each other, to investors, to customers.

Explore posts in the same categories: About the Book, The column itself

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