Portmanteaus are trending everywhere. Everything from politics to couple names to corporate activity has been ‘portmanteaued’. Consider these: NaMo, bromance, vlogging, hangry, Virushka, Pinterest, and even ‘healthymagination’ at General Electric. It’s short, fun, and sounds fantastic. (Shuntastic? Nope.) I, too, have encapsulated the essence of my article in a portmanteauMetaphormation (Metaphor + Transformation).


Just like portmanteaus, every realm of our daily life is rife with metaphors. However, metaphors are much powerful than portmanteausbeyond compare. In the exploration of metaphors, one can go in many directions, from ordinary and poetic language, business and advertising, to science and technology. Consider these: feeling heavy, all the world's a stage, an agile organisation, Amul: The Taste of India, the fabric of spacetime, and technology is a double-edged sword. Even a cursory glance at any of these (and many more) domains yields an astonishing array of examples.


Just like a 'dash of coriander' and a 'tomato rose' add a wow-factor to an otherwise bland dish, metaphors are often used to spruce up conversations. Beware, reader, of limiting the power of metaphor to a language of decoration.

Ever since Lakoff and Johnson introduced the groundbreaking 'conceptual metaphor theory' in 1980, the subject has been studied by many a researcher, including scientists. From an 'electron cloud’ to 'gravity is the curvature of spacetime', the history of science is replete with metaphors. Its use, however, is not limited to descriptive purposes. Through extensive expositions, scientists of all stripes have addressed the role of metaphors in aiding exploration and discovery.


Across realms, metaphors are now seen as a powerful cognitive tool that has the potency to conceptualize abstract concepts. For instance, when there is no immediate literal description available to talk sense into complex notions of life, relationships, leadership, etc., we instinctively invoke metaphorical thinking.

Though a metaphorical statement may be 'literally' false, it dislodges us from conventional thinking patterns and allows for analogical reasoning to prompt fresh ways of understanding and perceiving. In the very context, I now cite a profound quote that grows more relevant with every passing day:


If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking" – Buckminster Fuller

These are just some of many, many extraordinary powers of this imaginative language.


I define 'metaphormation' as a transformative process of thinking in metaphor to discover new ways of understanding ourselves, others, and the world we share. Think of this process, if not as a golden key, at least as a promising tool in triggering the 'self-understanding' process into motion. For me, at its simplest, a personal metaphor reformulates already ‘known’ aspects of self into interesting and easy to comprehend patterns. The more we explore our metaphor’s multifarious character and apply it to a range of situations, the more its significance emerges. Metaphors can plunge us into the depths of mystery, translating the ‘unknowns’ to ‘knowns’. Moreover, by instating a figurative perspective, we don't only create new and enriching formations of thought, but also become aware of the creative side of our thinking.


Each one of us needs metaphors that fit our journey of life and match our various roles of manager, spouse, parent, and so forth. As expounded by the leading executive coach Eric Kaufmann in his book 'Four Virtues of a Leader', even leaders need a personal metaphor to articulate their self-concept and vision.

Can you, in imagination, connect yourself to a metaphor? It can be anything: an animal, a comic character, an inanimate object, or natureyou decide. Your focus area might be an aspect of life or life itself. At first, working through a metaphor may perhaps seem cumbersome, but once your instincts take hold, you will be surprised by how powerfully the metaphor speaks to you. A note of caution must be injected here: embrace a forward-looking metaphor that serves your future goals, hopes, and dreams. Change is progressive, not regressive. Also, the value of your personal metaphor is not in whether it is right or wrong, but in whether it has helped some striking meaning and new salience to arise.

If you understand better by first seeing an example, click here to meet my life metaphor, my personal life coach: LIGHT


Image Credit: Eyesplash/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)




With 5+ years of experience, Ankita has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR - from hire to retire. She is currently Deputy Editor at Human Capital.


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