Plato's Cave as a metaphor for organizations as psychic prisons
Morgan uses the platonic allegory of the cave to illustrate his point. According to Plato, we are all like men trapped in a cave, forced to interpret the world by looking at shadows thrown upon the back wall. Over time, the cave dwellers begin to see the cave, and the shadows, as reality. If one were to escape and see the real world, he would be unable to return and live happily in the cave. And in trying to explain the nature of things to the other prisoners would be ignored, possibly causing the inhabitants to cling more tightly to their shadowy notions of the world.
2. Key characteristics of this metaphor:
The key characteristic of a psychic prison is that it has an organization or structure that traps its members in constructions of reality that give an impaired understanding of the world. Individuals can be trapped by a) favoured ways of thinking, b) repression caused by individual and collective psychic history, c) patriarchal ways of thinking and structuring, d) the denial of mortality and d) the fetishization of practices and beliefs.
These concerns and metaphors operate largely via the individual and collective unconscious and as such are not always readily identified by the participants. Breaking through these psychic prisons, as in Plato’s model, must happen as the result of an outside force or agency. We need to look outside our cave and welcome new ideas and metaphors in order to change unwanted and unproductive behaviours.
3. Feel of the metaphor:
“The answers must always come from within”
“Don’t trust outsiders.”
“This is the way we’ve always done things.”
“It’s in the company manual.”
“Always follow procedure and protocol.”
“This product or practice must not be changed, or we lose who we are.”
“The boss or manager knows best. Listen to your leaders. Don’t ask why.”
“This company will never fail.”
“Your contributions will always be remembered.”
Founders’ portraits line the walls.
Plaques honouring predecessors abound.
Routines and rituals must always be followed.
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4. Strengths and limitations of this metaphor:
The weakness are …
a) too much emphasis on “unconscious” patterns of behaviour.
(how can we effect change if the underlying causes are beyond our control or knowledge?)
b) not enough attention to the physical elements of imprisonment
(control over time, buildings, resources, space, movement, physical freedom.)
c) according to the author, it can encourage utopian thinking that provides little in the way of true solutions.
d) a danger that we might try to fix problems by controlling others’ thinking.
The strengths are…
a) a better understanding of corporate culture as a projection of hidden fears and needs.
b) seemingly rational approaches can be irrationality in disguise.
c) solutions must come from outside the traditional boundaries.
d) seemingly irrational resistance to change becomes easier to understand.
5. How can the metaphor inform our work as LT designers?
We need to be aware that there are often many hidden issues that will need to be addressed in any LD project. (“The boss doesn’t like that idea.”) The corporate culture may resist certain ways of doing things. (“We don’t do on-line learning that way.”) A designer needs to remember that seemingly irrational responses or requests usually have a basis in an unconscious, internally logical way of seeing the world.