Last night, Times Now featured a heated debate on television on the allegations of Team Anna against the Prime Minister. As the debate progressed, it emerged that the speaker had used the statement where he likened the Prime Minister to being used by his government like ‘Shikhandi’. For those who may not know, Shikandi is a male-female (hermaphrodite) character in the Indian epic of the Mahabharata who was used as a shield during battle because men would not fight somebody not “fully man”. The implication here was that the (honest) Prime Minister is being used as a shield by his highly corrupt government against their fraudulent practices. This was an unfortunate choice of a word (‘Shikhandi’, brings all the connotations of social misfit, gender misfit, and a mask for heinous activities. This was, quite frankly, in poor taste). The speaker tried to explain that he had used it as a metaphor, and not literally. But what is interesting is the power of the metaphor to bring out such strong emotions. When metaphor has such strong emotional connect, imagine the power it would hold for innovation!
Metaphorical thinking is what allows problems to be connected to solutions across domains. A Guttenberg is able to invent the printing press by recognizing the metaphorical connect between the pipe organ playing in his church and the coin press he worked at. Unfortunately, we have forgotten the art of the metaphor relegating it to some “soft skill” that is only fit for students of literature. In our systems- and process-orientedness, we refuse to look beyond and see that metaphorical connect that can lead us to powerful new ideas and innovation.
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