Blog & Insight

Analogy or metaphor that is the question

Knowing the difference between using the iceberg as an analogy or a metaphor could make such a huge difference to the amount of insight you get about the situation you’re grappling with.

That is, it could make the difference between finding a solution and not finding it – or put another way the difference between staying overwhelmed or stressed and not!!

As an analogy the iceberg reminds us that we only see what’s above the surface and yet there’s much more beneath the surface (c90%).

And that’s it – the analogy is a snapshot in time - life is like the iceberg ie we don’t see everything.

As a metaphor – which is more like a movie - the iceberg has many additional patterns:

  • Glaciers build layer upon layer of ice
  • It takes tens of thousands of years of compression along with infinitesimal movement toward the sea
  • An iceberg calves off a glacier
  • As they calve they can send huge waves out into the sea 
  • 90% is below the surface
  • It moves very slowly because of its weight
  • The 90% can scour, scrape, and gouge the seafloor
  • and even get grounded by what’s beneath the surface – sometimes being stuck for years
  • It’s direction of travel is determined by currents and the Earth’s rotation
  • It melts due to encountering warmer water, crashing waves and collisions with other icebergs
  • Cracks in the iceberg can lead to further calving making smaller multiple icebergs
  • Icebergs rotate as their centre of gravity changes (due to the melting 90%) ie what’s visible changes over time
  • Some icebergs never make it into warmer water and hang around for 50 years (compared to the more common 6-7 years)
  • And so on

Not every pattern will resonate or apply to the situation you’re grappling with but one or two might.

Let’s focus on the %s that so often are simply used as

  • There’s 90% beneath the surface

Alternatively, it could be about

  • The 100% taking time to develop
  • The 100% moving infinitesimally slowly towards something
  • The 100% calving once it gets to the end of one paradigm
  • The 90% slowing things down or even halting progress
  • What the 10% is actually changing over time
  • The 100% getting smaller over time
  • Finally being at one with the water

Do any of these patterns help you make sense of your current quandary? Or perhaps other patterns have come to mind as you’ve thought about the wider iceberg metaphor.

Next time you use a nature analogy to describe a situation why not go a little deeper into the metaphor - it may just be the difference that makes the difference.


It’s certainly why for 24 years I’ve used nature’s landscapes as metaphors for our lives to help give you wider perspectives about situations you’re grappling with.

See #landscapingyourlife on social media channels for more, or see the Landscaping Your Life podcast (Apple/Spotify or index of episodes here) or buy my book Can’t see the wood for the trees - landscaping your life to get back on track.

Or if you’re stressed, lost or don’t know what to do and instead want to ‘know the problem is solvable’ (as someone described the outcome of a coaching session last week) do get in touch alison@alisonsmith.co +44(0)7770 538159



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© Alison Smith
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