system metaphor

Many thanks to Bill Caputo for bringing this article about metaphors into my range-finder! Like Bill, I use metaphors a great deal in everyday conversation, and yet I hardly ever set up a system metaphor as recommended in XP. Which is doubly odd, because I’ve read a lot of George Lakoff‘s work and find myself completely captivated by his thinking. The idea that we develop our higher thinking by piling up metaphors on top of the actions we perform as babies is enormously appealing, and I hope he finds the time to demonstrate the effect in most areas of our cognitive lives.

So why is XP’s SystemMetaphor so misunderstood and under-used? My personal view links back to a topic we discussed at length at a recent agile nw meeting: that in order to work successfully XP relies on the presence of at least one, and preferably two, extraordinarily talented individuals. Clearly Kent Beck is one of those individuals, and it would seem that SystemMetaphor is one of his preferred cognitive tools. It would also seem to have worked successfully on a number of his projects. But not everyone can (or needs to) think in such a way about systems. My guess therefore is that this is the one case where Kent’s intuition was more personal than he realised – he can make it work, but most other folks can’t…

Update, 28-dec-04
Many thanks to Lasse for bringing the following quote to light:

All abstract thought is based on metaphors. The question is
not whether you will think metaphorically or not. The question is whether you will become aware of your metaphors and choose them consciously.

Kent Beck


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