Let’s retire the gear metaphor

It’s easy to see why so many PPT slide presentations include images of interlocking gears to evoke maximum team efficiency. Gears convey a seductive sense of control; they are reassuringly neat and predictable. These mechanical parts are perfect for representing machine age detachment, and perhaps also suit transactions involving information technology.

But gear metaphors communicate the opposite of what’s required for innovation to occur in a knowledge era. Knowledge—in contrast to information—gains value when humans develop what they know through reflection and interaction. The reality of this process is far from neat, predictable and mechanical. Developing the wealth of knowledge that leads to innovation requires relationships built on trust. Gears do not evoke trust or thoughtful reflection. So let’s not misrepresent living, human activities—such as collaboration—with graphics that glorify interchangeable metal parts.

The above set of slides expands on this notion of contrast between mechanical and natural systems.  

– Sharon VanderKaay

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  • About The Nature of Innovation

    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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