Wednesday, October 01, 2008

When Wall Street's House of Cards Comes Crashing Down, Time to Rebuild on a Solid Foundation

Having ideas become real through building is a routine experience for architects, contractors, masons and others in the steel-and-concrete building business. They find this close-to-miraculous occurrence barely worth talking about. You dream it, you draw it, you build it, you move on to the next project.

Building, both literally and metaphorically, has held an important place in human development from early cave-people days. As humans, we have the power to build up or tear down theories, reputations, confidence, organizations, buildings, cities, or cultures. Almost everything we do falls in the building up or tearing down category.

After food, finding - or building - shelter is one of our most primal instincts. And as civilization evolved, building together was the source of community bonding and pride. The pyramids of Egypt, the Acropolis in Greece, and Cathedrals of the Roman Empire all required thousands of people building together over multiple decades, if not centuries, to complete.

Rene Descartes, the sixteenth century French philosopher associated with the Scientific Revolution and often cited as the Father of Philosophy as well as the Father of Mathematics, uses the building metaphor throughout his “Discourse on Method”. At the magical moment he questions everything he has known as “truth”, Descartes uses the building metaphor to explain how he is able to “deconstruct” the out-dated and dogmatic “foundation” of his formal educational experience, and on an “open plain” construct new theories based on the foundations of a “universal knowledge” of morality.

In “Metaphors We Live By”, contemporary linguist George Lakoff explains that knowledge is based on a system of metaphors, and the foundational metaphors influence how our “towers of knowledge” are constructed. Foundational metaphors are usually invisible, yet they have profound impact on our abilities to see beyond constraints. For example, the metaphor “time is money” is a foundational metaphor which impacts business culture. It made sense in the era of the assembly line. The metaphor “time is how we show what matters” creates a completely different context for creating common-sense work practices.

LEGO SERIOUS PLAY allows us to share our ideas in a symbolic, three-dimensional language which provides direct communication. After we build, we can experiment with a variety of metaphors until we find one that resonates with universal agreement. By building together, we give shape to our aspirations, construct fears and barriers to success, and collectively build and assign language to solid solutions on firm foundations.