A metaphor is a literary device that is used by writers as a descriptive alternative to the use of adjectives, similes or other methods to describe the nature of the object described. Metaphors describe an item as if it were another item, drawing parallels between the subject of the description and the object actually being described. (Sucham, 7) In writing about organizations, there is a standard set of metaphors typically engaged. As organizations are typically complex systems, the use of metaphor to describe their design and process is a common tool for elucidation of the subject.
(Sucham, 8) Commonly, the metaphor applied to organizations is that of the living organism. (Sucham, 8) It is possible to draw parallels between many of the elements of a living being and those of an organization, such as a large business. (Sucham, 9) The central component of any complex organism is the brain. (Levine, 244) The brain is responsible for receiving the environmental and internal input from the organism and its surroundings, formulating functional explanations for the phenomena, plotting a course of action, and conveying the instructions to the other parts of the organism to execute.
(Levine, 245) In a large organization, the brain is represented by the company’s president and/or board of directors. (Levine, 245) Like the brain of the organism, this element of the organization receives and interprets information, formulates plans, and issues directives throughout the organization. (Levine, 246) As in an organism, any damage or defect in the brain will severely damage the functionality of the organization. (Levine, 246) As blood is the essential element of the circulatory system, so is money essential to the organization.
(Blunck, 422) Like blood, money must flow into and out of the various parts of the organization in order to ensure their health. (Blunck, 423) An interruption of blood flow can compromise organs in an organism; an interruption of capital can do the same for an organization. (Blunck, 423) As is the case with the organization, in most organisms, a disproportionate amount of blood is required to maintain the brain. (Blunck, 424) A marketing division of a company acts as the sensory input mechanism for an organization.
(Blunck, 426) Like the eyes and other senses, market research gives the executive “brain” important information about its environment. (Blunck, 426) The marketing department can produce information about what elements in the organizational environment are, or could potentially cause harm to the organization. (Blunck, 427) Similarly, the senses offer the brain information about environmental threats or opportunities for advantage or growth. (Blunck, 427) Like the senses, the marketing department of an organization can be a key element in targeting important priorities for the organization.
(Blunck, 427) In communicating these observations and findings to the brain/executive, marketing can give useful information as to the course of action most beneficial for the organization or company. (Blunck, 428) Human resources and training departments can serve an organization in a manner similar to how the digestive system serves an organism. (Blunck, 429) Like the digestive system, HR takes material from outside the organization and brings it to the inside of the organization.
The department is vital in ensuring that those items taken into the organization will help build it to be strong and healthy. (Blunck, 430) The HR system also expels waste and armful elements from the organizational body by terminating the employment of unusable or toxic personnel. (Blunck, 430) Training is another component of the HR digestive track. Training takes the raw components taken in by HR and shapes them into products that can be of immediate and direct use to the organizational organisms.
In organizations, as in organisms, a great deal of conversion is necessary to turn the “food” of the organism into the nutritional components that contribute to the growth and health of the organization. (Blunck, 430) The Information Technology department of any organization acts as the central nervous system. A complicated and often delicate structure, IT is vital in the area of communication within the organization. (Blunck, 431) As in an organism, IT or nerve failure can result in negative consequences that can be as trivial as minor discomfort in a small area, or as massive as corporate paralysis.
The decision-makers in an organization rely upon the information conducted to it by the IT nervous system, and are unlikely to act in the absence of information. (Blunck, 431) If they choose to do so, the results are often catastrophic. A breakdown of the nervous system can similarly cause the components of an organism to behave in a destructive or non-productive manner. (Blunck, 431) Nerve damage can result not only in paralysis, but also in flailing, intermittent shutdowns, and other destructive activities to the organism.
As a metaphor for a large organization, the living organism is useful and apt. Certainly, as with any literary device, it is possible to abuse the metaphor to the extent that it no longer applies, but in the case of the organization, the interaction of the components and parts is sufficiently complex to be described as an organism. (Sucham, 12) Successful organizations, like healthy organisms, rely upon a delicate balance and good performance of several elements, each of these vital to the “health” of the overall construct.
Work Cited Blunck, P. (1994) “From a “Rational” Structure to a “Socio-Technical” System: A Whole-Mind Metaphor for Organizational Change”. A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 51, No. 4. Pg. 422-431. 1994 Levine, D. (1995) “The Organism Metaphor in Sociology” Social Research, Vol. 62, No. 2. pg. 244-271. 1995. Suchan, J. (1995) “The Influence of Organizational Metaphors on Writers’ Communication Roles and Stylistic Choices” The Journal of Business Communication, Vol. 32, No. 1. pg. 7- 13. 1995