I love metaphors! When they're fresh, they ignite our imaginations and stimulate our creativity.

One exercise I do with my workshop participants is to have them make metaphors for their companies. I've found that the metaphors that this exercise produces give me a lot of insight into the nature and morale of each company. They also provide me with a pretty good sense of how well that company will do in the near term.

Here are a few of them. You might even be able to guess their names. As you read along, ask yourself, "What's a good metaphor for my organization?"

  • Our company is like a supertanker. It's large and powerful, but moves slowly. Also, once the course is set, it's tough to change.

  • Our company is like a winery. We have different products and some vintages are better than others. We also have two kinds of users: on the one hand we have connoisseurs who greatly appreciate what we've done; on the other hand, there are "Ripple drinkers" who take our software and manipulate it to their own ends.

  • Our company is like the sun shedding light on the computer world.

  • Working here is like a nightmare. You'd like to get out of it but you need the sleep.

  • Our company is like Peter Pan. It's childlike and wishes to retain the good parts of being a small company even as it grows larger. Being able to fly is a kind of fantasy as is making the best product. Our president is like Tinkerbell—the spirit and imaginative force of the company. Our chief financial officer is like Wendy—he's practical, has both feet on the ground, but he's also pulled along in the magic. Our chief competitor is like Captain Hook—but we'll overcome him with imagination rather than "guns and knives."

  • Our company is like a galley ship without a drummer. We've got some people rowing at full beat, some at one-half beat, some at one-quarter beat, and some dead beats. Also, the captain is steering by the wake.

  • Our company is like a three-ring circus with marketing, R&D, and manufacturing each trying to occupy the center ring. The president is the ring master. Marketing has the high wire act, R&D has the magic act, and manufacturing are the elephants. Advertising is in charge of tickets sales; customer support are the peanut vendors; the customers are the audience; the field engineers are the clowns between the rings; and the grand finale is when we successfully install a system that works!

  • Working here is like urinating in a dark suit. It's warm and it feels good, but it doesn't show.

  • Our company is like a maze looking for a mouse.

  • Our company is like a giant human body. Administration is the guts. Sales and marketing are the mouth. Corporate management is the mind making decisions. R&D is the reproductive system. And the secretaries and technicians are the skeleton that supports the body.

Here's a challenge to you: What is your company like? What metaphors would you use to describe your organization? What would your colleagues say?

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Roger von Oech is president of Creative Think, Menlo Park, California, and the author of A Whack on the Side of the Head. His most recent product is the "Ball of Whacks," a creativity tool for innovators. Reach Roger and his Creative Think blog by going to www.creativethink.com.