How using metaphors saved my bacon

Throughout my career I have found metaphors to be an incredible tool. Good use of metaphors shows how you are someone who can communicate strongly, especially when it comes to big, complicated issues. In fact I’ve even talked about my top 3 metaphors before.

How a Sailboat Saved Our Bacon…

When I was working for a big company in London – the business and consequentially the teams too were growing fast.

Each team was having their own isolated retrospective and fixing issues with their own team – yet widely there was an absence of responsibility for the big picture vision.

I was scared about what this would mean for the business if we couldn’t overcome this and get past this isolated way of thinking. I went to my good friend and agile coach asking for help – I told him that I was worried how we weren’t tackling some of these really big issues.

He immediately looked at me and said …

Have you heard of the sailboat retrospective?

I was confused, I’d never heard of it …

He took out his pen and began drawing it … what he drew looked remarkably like this …

Image credit to:

The sailboat metaphor explained

The picture he drew explained that our team was a sailboat – and that as a sailboat we needed to be going somewhere (the island), that we would be faced with big issues (the rocks), things would hold us back (the anchor) and things would push us on (the wind)

Immediately I understood! All this time in our retrospectives we had been talking about our anchor or our wind, but we weren’t talking about the island – our goal, or the rocks that were threatening to sink us!

After learning about this new way of thinking I was able to go back to the team and try to reframe some of our discussions with the use of a powerful metaphor.

Give the sailboat metaphor a go at your next retrospective and see if it too can bring you a new way of thinking.

Question: What are your favourite metaphors to use at work? 

— Let me know in the comments below!

Lou Bichard