Use Imagery to Explore Issues [Yes! And Blog #143]

Need a creative tool to explore issues?

Imagery for Creative IdeasDuring our holiday last July we spent three days horse riding. After two days I had seen enough of horses and my back ached terribly. I was a “groucho” not a gaucho. I decided that I would sit out the third day, but my son loved riding and really wanted to go. So I said I would go with him. Bad decision.

 On the way back, the leaders galloped, my back seized up and I was in agony. To cut a long story short, after four months of osteopathy and pills I was better, but still had a chronic pain across the middle of my back.

One night in December I went to sleep and had a dream. In the dream I saw a woman appear and slowly walk towards me. She reached out her hand and gently touched a finger to my spine on the centre of the pain; there was a loud click and the pain disappeared.

I woke up and the pain had gone. I got up and was pain free for the first time in months. How did that happen? If it were just my spine clicking back in to place, why did I see the woman walking towards me and touching my back before it clicked? The power of the subconscious?.


Recalling that dream recently (please see the closing story) I thought it might be an opportunity to discuss an interesting technique I have tried occasionally, known as Image Manipulation.

In this tool you explore an issue with a client without you knowing what the issue is. This is a very good way to deal with issues that might be sensitive for the client and is also a way for the client to explore the issue without using traditional verbal reasoning. It is an excellent way to transform their thinking.

When you use the tool, ask the client to think of the issue and some of the key elements in it. Next, ask them to think of a metaphor that represents one of these elements, without telling you what the element is. They might say, “There is a rainforest.”

An issue to watch for here is that they might describe a concept rather than a metaphor, e.g. “It’s beautiful.” To elicit the metaphor, you might ask, “and that beautiful is like what?”

When they describe a metaphor, your task is to elicit further information without imposing your own perspective on it. So you might say, “and is there anything else about the rainforest?” but you would not say “and how wet is the rainforest?”

The questions I have used here are two of the basic Clean Language questions, developed by David Grove, a New Zealand psychologist. Find out more about Clean Language, by clicking on the link.

You now ask them to define additional metaphors for the key elements. So let’s say they have described a gorilla and a poacher. Now you might ask them a question that begins to reveal how the metaphors interact. E.g. “So there are a gorilla and a poacher, and what happens next?”

You should appreciate that there is not a “script” here for you to use. You go with the metaphors the client provides and use the language of the client to enable them to explore their metaphorical landscape.

End the conversation when the client feels like they have explored it sufficiently. Be aware that you do not want people to end up in a worse place than where they began!


You might try the tool with a trusted colleague or friend to sense how it works. Or play with my rainforest metaphor; what Clean Language  questions might you use to elicit further information from me?

To Close

The other night I had a dream about a fox in the garden. My wife woke up and started relating her dream to me, also about a fox. I racked my brains to think if we had both seen something about foxes the previous evening but could not think of anything. I looked up what foxes mean in dreams but the answers seem to be as much use as a horoscope.

Both of us dreaming about foxes might just be a coincidence but after my dream about my back, I am willing to believe that our subconscious has functions that perhaps modern science has yet to explain.  Make the most of it for problem exploration!

Clean Language questions:

  • And is there anything else about …?
  • And what kind of …. is that ….?
  • And where is …?
  • And whereabouts…?
  • And what happens next?
  • And then what happens?
  • And what happens just before ……?
  • And where does / could …. come from?
  • And that …. is like what?

John Brooker I Yes! And. Think Innovatively.

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