About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is it the train or the tracks that are important

Harold Jarche had an interesting post about a metaphor used in the book Revolutionary Wealth. In it the authors outline a metaphor using the speed of the train as an indication of readiness for technological change.

However, I did not like this metaphor. I feel it is the tracks (which includes the structure and the paths laid out for the trains to go on) which makes entities ready or not for change. Some organizations, such as the government, might have the newest technology available, but are restricted in how they can use it. I see the train as the technology itself. Some older trains can do very well if there is a well kept track, while even the most advanced engines must slow down for poorly maintained and planned tracks.

There is portion of the train ride from Albany, NY to NY City were trains have to come to the slowest crawl imaginable because the track cannot sustain the train. There is a delay in Washington DC as engines from the south (or north) must change to fit the difference in track size between the south and north. Trains from the mid-west to the east coast are always late due to the complex structure and poor condition of the rails around the Buffalo area. Trains must feed into this one high traffic area where there is always rail repair going on.

So with that in mind, I developed the follow metaphor using the tracks, rather than the train. I have copied it from the comment section on Harold's blog:

I can’t say I really like that metaphor. It assumes that Business is the only fast train with all other support services as behind the times.

I think a better metaphor would be the “tracks”. Big business has the fastest tracks maintained and built right to their door. As a result, they have the fastest track to progress.

Small business must try to deal with their track being just a bit out of reach, so they have a fast train to a certain point, but then must be creative in getting the goods (knowledge and technology) to their door.

The civil society makes sure that there are spurs off the main track. Even if these spurs are a bit slow and in need of some help, at least it gets to a larger number of people. They just need to be patient.

The government train has the nicest tracks around, although they don’t go to the places that they necessarily need to go. However, this is a very efficient train, so it doesn’t matter if it is going anywhere, as long as it can prove that it went SOMEWHERE. Meanwhile, the train employees would just like someone to plan out the track and END at some point.

Education keeps having the tracks ripped up and relaid. Sometimes this means that the train will get to where it needs to go, but for those on poorer or more isolated routes, it might just go around in circles. Of course, then the passengers blame it on the conductor and engineer, who are just trying to keep the train on the tracks.

The international track goes only so far, and then it stops. There is no coordination, and the track owners of one railroad won’t speak with the track owners of the others. When they do, it still takes time to move from one set of tracks to another.

The political system train can’t decide where to lay the track. It stops at their friends houses, but doesn’t connect to others. As a result there are hundreds of miles of tracks planned, but nothing is actually laid out because no one can agree on a system.

Finally, the legal train builds up, then takes down tracks. The piece meal track system means that there is no coordination with actual walls between some, but bridges that link others. As fast as the political system is laying out track, the legal system is rearranging it.

I can't help but think there are some stakeholders missing. Perhaps members of minority groups or "non-techies". Non-techies put up walls to prevent the track from coming to their community and hope to preserve their way of life.

Minority groups, tired of always being by-passed by the larger companies, lay their own tracks often in isolation. The larger more popular tracks then have others who come from outside who want to link them up to the main tracks.

Perhaps you can think of other groups.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia!

I am at odds with this metaphor, no matter which element is used.

In the original metaphor, the source is so far removed from the target, I wonder if there is even a vestige that can be utilised from it.

Catchya later

V Yonkers said...

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Can you elaborate? What do you think would be a better metaphor to use?

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia.

Like you, I too do not like the metaphor of speed used in this context.

In creating a metaphor, there are two components to be considered, the source and the target.

The source is where we get the idea for the metaphor - 'John was a lion in the fight'.

The target is what we try to understand- 'John was a lion in the fight'.

There has to be some conceptual tie between the source and the target for a metaphor to be useful. When this tie is tenuous, the metaphor ceases to be of much use.

I hope this explains it to you.

Catchya later

V Yonkers said...

Thanks, Ken. I think in this case, the source for the original train metaphor is who is driving the change. However, I think the question should have been, what path does change and technology take and who determines that path? Therefore, the metaphor of the tracks, for me, was how does the structure determine the path? But also, who determines the structure? There are many more forces that shape the form of education and technology which often is intangible. I was trying to make this more tangible using the track metaphor. But I am open to any other metaphor you might think is more appropriate.