Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Metaphors: Purple Kool-Aid, Religion and ...Star Trek?

I recently read a Facebook post from colleague, Lou Rosenfeld: 

"What's a gentler way to say "drank the Kool-Aid" without being so bland as "Got religion"?", he asks. Thirty-six people respond with clever suggestions. My favorites: "Bought the whole album", "Down with..." and "Wearing the team colors."

I was going to give a response, but after writing my 3rd paragraph, it seemed silly to continue on Facebook. The post obviously triggered something in me. Hence, you get to read about it on my blog. 

"Drank the Kool-Aid"

First, you left out an important word: "purple". The Kool-aid incident was a mass suicide of religious cult followers who lived in the US but moved to Guayana. It shocked the socks off our country and made it to the cover of Time Magazine. 

"Drank the Purple Kool-aid" refers to the blind faith needed to act or think in certain ways, regardless of the outcome. Over the years, "drinking the kool-aid" has been softened to signify that someone has become part of a group and thinks the way the group thinks, seeing the world similarly to the rest of the group, organization or company culture. I use it often with clients when I sell my consulting services, telling them that, as an outsider, I have a fresh perspective because I have not yet "drunk the kool-aid."  

Even with the back story, it doesn't really help to figure out what a different metaphor might be. Which is my favorite conundrum. If you want a similar metaphor, you need to deconstruct the current one, brainstorm different options, select specific attributes to emphasize, then put it all together in a story.

Deconstruct the Current Metaphor
First, the people who drank the original kool-aid were in a cult, and they were willing to follow the directions of their leader, even when they knew what the consequences would be. All 909 of them. So you have themes of a cult, of groups thinking alike, taking similar action, having similar viewpoints, doing something extreme, drinking a special liquid. There's a treasure trove of metaphor frameworks here. Woot!
  1. Cult: although the original metaphor is religious, there are cults that aren't. There are also popular cults (ComiCon, Star Trek, Marine Special Forces, tree huggers, pet lovers, etc.). So, you could say that someone has already bought their ticket to the Star Trek convention, or always gets the extra pet insurance... boo-yah!
  2. Thinking alike: Vulcan mind meld? Being in the same camp. Voting along party lines. Which side of the aisle someone is on (works for those familiar with American politics and the 2 party system).
  3. Joining a group: Welcome to the club! Are you a card-carrying member? Mention training, orientation, induction, graduating, getting an official document/certificate/diploma. 
Obviously, there are many different frameworks to choose. Which one works best for the idea you'd like to get across? Circumstances and context should dictate going in one direction over another.

Brainstorm New Metaphors

Once you have deconstructed the base metaphor, you want to figure out which attributes to focus on. Obviously 900+ people dying a horrible death isn't Lou's goal. Nor is moving out of the country, or making headlines, or killing a congressman. His other reference is to "get religion". Hmmm, maybe  having an awareness that changes our point of view, or thinking alike as a group.  "Get religion" can be helpful, because it doesn't speak to any specific religion, but in the workplace, anything religious can be a touchy subject. (Hey, let's mention abortion, Ronald Reagan, or gay marriage instead!)

Having an awareness -- who has awarenesses? When? Do they come quickly (Homer Simpson's "DOH," or "Could 'a had a V8")? Do they evolve over time ("getting an education")? Is it the awareness itself ("seeing the light," "the lightbulb came on"), or is it the process?

Once you've done this brainstorming, there should be enough for you to construct the metaphor of your choice, using a basic framework, and then focusing on specific attributes that highlight the point you are trying to make. It must appeal to your audience and use references that are familiar to them.


FWIW, you can read more about whack-a-doodle Jim Jones and the horrible Purple Kool-aid incident on Wikipedia. Those of you who were born after this memorable event in 1978, probably don't remember a preacher by the name of Jim Jones who lead a church called The People's Temple in the San Francisco Bay Area. He ended up moving it to Guayana (South America) and eventually led almost all its followers to their untimely death. Most died due to ingesting poison that was mixed with purple kool-aid. Those who resisted were shot, including a congressman from California. 

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