People are like Tea Bags
Phil Friedman has recently dubbed me a “Prairie-Culture philosopher” in his most recent post.
I’ll accept that badge.
Both my parents are prairie people, and we didn’t waste words in our house.
If there was nothing to say, we didn’t.
I like short pithy sayings, full of wisdom.
If they have some wit in there, that’s a bonus.
Let me share a story with you.
Over thirty years ago I heard a speaker who happened to be from Tennessee. I’ve completely forgotten his name, but one phrase he used to make a point has stuck with me since.
Appropriately enough, in speaking about diligence and tenacity, he said “Stick to it like a hair in a biscuit!”
When the audience did that little head tilt thing, you know the kind when you say something to your dog and they have no clue what you just said? It was that kind of reaction.
He then told the story of where he got that phrase.
He was visiting a young lady’s house for dinner… to meet the parents.
This is not a particularly comfortable experience for any young man, so he was all shined up and on his best behaviour.
The table had been set nicely, since the girl’s mother knew her daughter liked this young man, and wanted it to be a great experience.
As was the custom, fresh warm biscuits were baked and were in a basket on the table.
During grace, when heads were bowed and eyes were supposedly closed, the young man cracked open an eye to make sure he wasn’t being sized up by the dad. Thankfully dad’s eyes were closed as he offered the prayer of thanks.
It was then he noticed a long strand of hair on the table beside his plate.
Being a considerate young man, he realized that his beau’s mother would be aghast that her perfectly set table contained an intruder.
Taking advantage of the moment, he decided to covertly remove the hair from the table… so he reached out as quietly as he could, grabbed the hair and began to slowly pull back his hand…
… at which point the biscuit in the basket, to which the hair was attached, came tumbling out of basket with a loud crash.
We as an audience understood perfectly what he meant by “Stuck to her like a hair in a biscuit”.
What this speaker had just done, is use one of the most powerful tools we can use in writing, speaking and communicating – the metaphor.
I’m a big fan of metaphors.
They are short, pithy bits of wisdom that make a point, which for people like me, are easy to remember.
Metaphors help other people remember what you say.
Sometime they are self-explanatory.
"Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
Others are so bizarre, they make people stop and think.
"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,"
- Irina Dunn, popularized by Gloria Steinem
Sometimes they are funny.
"I told my wife that a husband is like a fine wine; he gets better with age. The next day, she locked me in the cellar."
"Cleaning the house while your kids are still home is like shoveling while it's still snowing."
Others open the door to telling a story, like I described above.
What does happen, is that your audience remembers the point you were trying to make.
As a leader, or a writer, you say things that you hope people will remember.
Put the power of the metaphor into your arsenal of tools.
Back up the metaphors with a story.
Your team and your audience with thank you for it.
Now to close the loop on the title of this post.
“People are like tea bags”.
I first saw this on a fridge door about 35 years ago.
I still remember it.
It comes to mind regularly as I’m dealing with situations.
This shows the power of what I’ve just spent 671 words
It came to mind this week during the election south of the Canadian border.
Of course there was a second part to this quote.
The whole quote reads
“People are like tea bags. Their true flavor doesn’t come out until they are in hot water.”
What’s your favourite metaphor?__________________________________________________________
Image: Used under Creative Commons License
About the Author:
I’m the Chief Information Officer for Appleby College, in Oakville, Ontario Canada, where my team is transforming the delivery of education through innovative application of technology.
I'm convinced that IT leadership needs to dramatically change how IT is delivered rather than being relegated to a costly overhead department.
In addition to transforming IT in my role as CIO, I look for every opportunity to talk about this... writing, speaking and now blogging on BeBee (www.bebee.com/@kevin-pashuk) , LinkedIn, ITWorld Canada, or at TurningTechInvisible.com.
I also shoot things... with my camera. Check out my photostream at www.flickr.com/photos/kwpashuk