What can a pile of old rocks tell us about culture, purpose and togetherness?
Well, that all depends on how you describe them…
Inuit and other peoples of the Arctic have an ancient tradition of marking a path or location by piling up stones into an inukshuk, literally meaning “that which acts in the capacity of a human”. When the pile is complete, the structure resembles the physical form of a person.
As well as standing as a directional guide or landmark, inuksuit are sometimes used like a mailbox where friends and family can store gifts or notes to be shared between communities.
The construction of an inukshuk is a collective act, a project of significance created by a community. Each stone is important. Without every stone the entire structure cannot stand.
Visionary leaders use metaphors like this to bring concepts to life and paint vivid pictures for people to guide them along the rocky road ahead, to help them feel a sense of unity and togetherness or to visualise the way forward together.
Rocks that rouse
When we explore the inukshuk’s structure of significance and compare it to that of our organisations there’s a lot of symbolic common ground.
We can bring our organisation’s plans and priorities to life in many inspiring ways by using metaphors and analogies in the stirring stories we tell and the rousing content we share.
Here are some examples:
- A symbol of diversity –a metaphor like this can be used to emphasise how each employee, like stones in a structure, contributes in their own way to the organisation, forming a strong and diverse union.
- A symbol of shared purpose – use the story of the inukshuk to highlight the importance of a common goal by illustrating how it serves as a guidepost, symbolising a collective direction for your organisation. It’s that collection of contributions that creates the significant whole.
- A symbol of interdependence – as one united team we can mirror how the stones in an inukshuk rely on one another for stability and strength.
- A symbol of leadership – as leaders as all levels, we act as the central stone in an inukshuk, playing a crucial role in supporting and elevating one another.
- A symbol of resilience – we have challenges to overcome, and we must adapt and grow stronger together to withstands the harsh conditions we face.
- A symbol of recognition – just like the unique rocks that form this enduring structure, we acknowledge, recognise and celebrate one another’s individuality.
- A symbol of cultural respect – as a united organisation, we foster an environment that respects and values different backgrounds and perspectives, much like the cultural significance of the inukshuk within its own communities.
- A symbol of trust – the inukshuk, built with care and intention, represents the solid and unwavering trust and reliability essential in a cohesive team.
Inspirational author Seth Godin references the inukshuk in his latest book, The Song Of Significance, using it to illustrate how, together, we can start a ‘significance revolution’ and unite over offering people work worth doing that leads to impact and change. Now that’s an analogy worth remembering!
Next time you’re communicating a concept or seeking to emphasise and illustrate an emotive point, consider how you can use a similar metaphor to capture the imagination of your audience.
Caroline Roodhouse for Alive!