Friday, August 29, 2008

Use of Analogy

During the Democratic National Convention coverage this week, I caught an interview with John Hickenlooper, mayor of the host city, Denver. He comfortably talked about how being the mayor of a big city is like running a restaurant. A man after my own heart because I love analogical thinking! Hickenlooper, a former brewpub owner, explained that running a restaurant is all about meeting the needs of the public. He says you have to understand "constituency service", learn how to manage conflict, and develop good empathy and communication skills. He explained that the restaurant business taught him that "there is no margin in having enemies". When he talked about being mayor, he said the same thing, explaining that one needs at all costs to be a collaborator and to stay positive, even in the trenches. Taking a longer view of what in his past has prepared him to manage the complication that being the mayor of a big city requires, he points to his career evolution: English major to geologist to brewpub owner to mayor. "I learned how to learn," he says.

Extrapolating from what Hickenlooper offers, I see that he has collected solutions in all of his experiences and is at the ready to apply them. When I am called to work with a leadership team over a long period of time, part of what we spend concentrated time and effort doing is systematically collecting solutions. I orchestrate, in fact, Solution Retreats, which is a visceral analogical thinking experience. Recently I guided the leadership team of an independent school through the charge of understanding the analogous businesses of a liquor store, a bank, a global manufacturer, a hospital, an architectural firm, and a symphony by having them question each CEO over a series of day long retreats. The analogies were not evident to them at first, but each solution retreat yielded new awareness, new understanding, new analytical frameworks, and specific projects for shaping the culture of their school. Learning through stories and conversation provides a richer, deeper, more meaningful and more useful experience than studying facts and figures. Why not create analogical learning experiences and reap the rewards.

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