Those of you who have studied Business at any level have probably come across the fantastic little book by Dr. Spencer Johnson, entitled "Who moved my Cheese?" Using the position of Cheese as a metaphor, Dr. Spencer Johnson helps define and explain many different aspects of change management. It's a great little metaphor, and a book which rather than explaining to the reader what to think, enables the reader to think into the subject independently, with many difference cheeses as prompts.
In my final year at University, we had to do a presentation based assignment and having spent a few hours in the library, one of the guys I was working with had grabbed "Who moved my cheese" and was having a good little laugh with a couple of the other guys. I suggested we use the book as a base for our own presentation, as although the subject matter was very different, the use of cheese as a metaphor has a generic appeal.
We ended up finishing the write-up of the the presentation at around 3am on the morning it was due to be delivered, with our slot at 10.30am. I was very happy with where it was regarding the metaphorical aspect - as in order to fit everything we wanted to say into the ten minute presentation slot, we'd made sure that rather than investigate many of the points deeply, we'd provided enough information in the metaphor for the audience to think about it themselves.
When it came to the actual presentation, it went off really well. However, as we were going along, there was a little too much emphasis on 'cheese' and not enough on the topic of our presentation - which was "informed consent". Sure, it was aimed at the right audience and all the difficult concepts were explained and any psychological jargon was omitted - but it felt as though I may have missed the point a bit, as I could see the marker's face screwing up - as although she was the most well versed in the room on the subject - we weren't being as clear as maybe we should have been.
It got to the end of the presentation, and the marker didn't look best pleased. In fact, I'd say she was pretty bemused that she'd just sat down for a Psychological Presentation and appeared to have been delivered a presentation on cheese. However, her key question wasn't to us - but to the rest of the room.
"Did anyone 'get' that? I'm completely lost."
It was at this point that I have to thank the girl at the back. Rather than the answer having come from any of the content in the presentation, what we'd manage to achieve was complete engagement with the audience, and the more intelligent in the audience had been switched on by the prompting, rather than lost in the metaphors. She waxed lyrical for about two minutes about the skill and content of our presentation and had interpreted our presentation in ways in which none of us had preempted. However, the marker was very impressed that someone should get such a buzz out of a presentation, and when a couple of other people chipped in with support too the marker looked suitably impressed - we got a 1st for the presentation.
Over the past few weeks I've seen a similar strategy adopted by Apple in regards to its marketing. Why say anything of authority when you can let your 'disciples' speak for you. If a random iPhone4 user says "Apparently its not even a problem, it's a myth put around by people who haven't put the sim card in all the way into the tray, and when they touch it the metal contacts touch the metal tray… no cheap plastic on an iPhone my friend :) It's not designed for freaks and idiots though." - then if it's rude/wrong it won't affect Apple's brand negatively - but will help spread more myths and confusion regarding the root cause of the problem - buying Apple plenty of time to fix it.
Here's a little cheese analogy for you:
Lots of people have been out and bought their Babybel and eaten it without removing the wax. There were no instructions to remove the wax from the Babybel, and those who were not made aware of that fact are deemed stupid. Surely Babybel should have included instructions for how to eat the cheese? Maybe, but for those that have a long relationship with Babybel, removing the wax is second nature.