Machine thinking

Posted by on Mar 3, 2008 in Uncategorized | One Comment


Been struck recently how common it is to find our thinking about humans and human behaviour (and all the stuff this involves like brands, marketing & organisations) to be distorted by the machine metaphors and similes we use.

Of course, our choice of metaphor is largely determined by what we perceive folk around us are doing and it’s undoubtedly true that a lot of folk that I’m surrounded by are particular interested in what technology can do and the machine metaphor world is naturally a rich source of metaphor to them. Management science is rooted in the Taylorian notions of the machine as the perfectible and Man its lazy and imperfectible untrustworthy servant so a lot of our management ideas are also steeped in the sump of machine metaphor.

A prime example of this is the “social network” stuff we’ve been debating recently (we tend to talk as if human networks were relatively stable and information-based as machine networks commonly are). All kinds of inaccuracies in our thinking and our attempts to do things arise from us mistaking the world of our metaphor for the world the metaphor seeks to describe…

The litany of machine words in this neat little David McKie piece in today’s Guardian makes the same point.

Given how such ideas and language practices spread, it’s really hard not to fall in line with what surrounds us. I don’t have a simple solution (but am open to suggestions).

Meanwhile I’m just going to try to keep in mind the difference between the people I’m trying to describe and the automaton mirror-image humans that Dr Who has been known to rumble with. A machine man is very different from a real one; the latter is much harder than the former to get to grips with but the former is what our machine thinking is all about…

1 Comment

  1. Tom Asacker
    March 4, 2008

    “Becoming a manager has much to do with learning the metaphors; becoming a good manager has much to do with using the metaphors; and becoming a leader has much to do with changing the metaphors.” – Jim Autry