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Metaphors used by innovation consultants: how metaphors shape innovation consulting

Gropstra, Eric (2012) Metaphors used by innovation consultants: how metaphors shape innovation consulting.

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Abstract:The consultancy sector has grown rapidly over the last 30 years. Innovation consulting today is dependent on the basic orientation, motivation and context of the organization. The use of metaphoric language within the field of innovation consulting is an area that has up till now received little attention. Because a metaphor has clear generative and descriptive quality, it has the ability to inspire and effectuate innovation. The goal of my research is to identify which conceptual metaphors are used in this innovation consulting context, and explain why these metaphors are used. The central research question that is addressed in this research is;  Which conceptual metaphors are used by innovation consultants, and how can the use of these conceptual metaphors be explained? The research is a combination of cognitive linguistics and discourse analysis. The explorative nature of the study has resulted in a grounded theory approach, based on theory building, content analysis, and coding. The research consists of 71 websites that were saved to a local computer. The texts on these websites were imported in a database to be able to analyze every sentence individually. An ANOVA (analysis of variance) and discriminant analysis were used as statistical research methods. Within the research the conceptuality of the metaphors used by innovation consultants is investigated. Conceptual metaphors address the thought processes behind a metaphor. In this respect metaphors are cognitive mechanism functioning on the level of thought, and not mere linguistic mechanism operating exclusively on the level of language. Metaphorical expressions are tied to metaphorical concepts in a systematic way. A conceptual metaphor consists of a source domain and a target domain. The source domain says something about the target domain, with the basic structure A is like B or the ‘man is like a lion’. The shared ground of the source and target domain creates a new conceptual ‘reality’. An example of a conceptualization that structures an everyday activity is an argument. The rhetoric within an argument can be; • Your claims are indefensible. • He attacked every weak point in my argument. • He shot down all my argument. The target domain ‘argument’ is in this respect conceptualized by the source domain ‘battle’ or ‘war’. The research has resulted in six conceptual target domains that are used by an innovation consultant. The concepts addressed by the consultants with respect to their source domain are very broad. The findings show that strategy consultants use on average slightly more metaphors than for instance management consultants. The use of metaphors of the strategy consultant is more focused on ‘strategy’, than on the ‘description’ of the organization. This is explained by their strategy consultant background. Another finding was that organizations with less than 10 employees use significantly less metaphors on the ‘environment of the organization’ than the other consultancies in the research. This is then attributed to their lack of available resources. The target domains were thus investigated thoroughly, but real shocking differences between the 71 websites were not found. The overall distribution on the 5 six target domains is presented in a model to show how ‘reality’ is mediated by the innovation consultant. Much of the metaphors are not pragmatic in nature. In almost all of the uses of metaphors, the same could be said with normal content words, and this would then even result in more meaningful sentences and statements. The conceptual metaphors are in this respect blurring the understanding of the client. ‘In the fifth century BC, Sun Tzu wrote: ' In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace.’, is one of those ‘blurring’ metaphors used by an innovation consulting website. This is a comparison on the basis of war and peace. However how war and peace refer to the client’s actual business situation is not evident. The research shows that the conceptual metaphors used are part of a more ‘decorative’ approach to metaphors use. The fact that consultants use the same target domains, and very disperse source domains, is an indicator that the consultancy practice is not a real ‘professional’ profession, but a blend of vocation and profession. The ‘artistic’ component of the reflective practitioner is taken too far. The ‘decorative’ approach to metaphors supersedes the possibility to use ‘real’ metaphorical conceptualizations.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:85 business administration, organizational science
Programme:Business Administration MSc (60644)
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