SpaceX rocket landing Stranger Things season 4 trailer House of the Dragon photos Brood X cicadas Last-minute Mother's Day gifts Stimulus check updates

Metaphors for the modern world

The rarefied world of achievement is awash in metaphors, so's Michael Kanellos lists some that can be applied to the heroes, villains, and principles of ordinary life.

At the Clean-Tech Investor Summit, venture capitalist Ira Ehrenpreis introduced SpaceX founder and Tesla Motors Chairman Elon Musk as a "black swan," one of those rare, unexpected accidents of history that radically change it.

The black swan term, popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, has been used to describe the September 11 attacks, the discovery of the Western Hemisphere, and the Internet. But a person? It's not like he's Patrick Duffy in The Man From Atlantis.

But forget linguistic symmetry, the important thing is the metaphor. The business and tech world is awash in them: The Singularity, the Arc of Innovation, Creative Destruction. Nearly all of them apply to the rarefied world of achievement that most of us do not inhabit. With that in mind, I've come up with some that can be applied to the heroes, villains, and principles of ordinary life. Some of these I might even turn into self-help books that you can buy at the airport.

1. The Danza Directive
This applies to a person or company that survives major upheavals and changes without any palpable talents. No matter what happens, they endure and transform themselves into a new role. Danzas in our midst include Conexant Systems, Travelzoo, Corel, and anyone who worked at AOL.

2. Stervility
A combination of "sterling" and "servility," the term describes people who don't accomplish much but have really great credentials. You can often see stervility in companies funded by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, quoting Tom Freidman in their PowerPoint decks, or serving as the CEO of large search engine companies in Mountain View, Calif.

3. The Pucker Point
This describes the moment when someone comes up with an edgy, uncomfortable idea which, if implemented, will lead a company to a rapid and painful demise. Develop a dating site for hamsters? Build supercomputers to cater to day care providers? If you've been in any work training seminar where you had to carry railroad ties together or break wooden blocks, you went through this.

The term was inspired by CNET blogger Steve Tobak, who remembers a moment when someone at his former company, Cyrix, suggested that the chipmaker get into the computer business.

"I don't know. This whole thing just makes my butt pucker," replied board member and venture capitalist L.J. Sevin. Sevin listened to his body. Cyrix stayed out of computers and skirted disaster.

4. Harbonics
Words that really aren't words that are nonetheless used by graduates of Harvard Business School (also known as "Whang," or slang used at the Wharton School of Business): modularity, additition, decouple.

5. The Torquemada Thesis
Any time someone stands up to ask a question at a conference and instead whips out a rambling, angry dissertation.

6. Moorenipulation
Moorenipulation is a method of winning an argument by misquoting Moore's Law. Some just simply misstate the math, and others use the observation (coined to describe how silicon chipmakers can steadily cut costs) to describe how their chain of pancake houses will swamp the nation.

7. The Impossible Dream
Have you ever had a vision in an awake/asleep state that could solve your personal or professional problems? Then someone nudges you and you realize you nodded off in a meeting and will spend the rest of your life trying to articulate that momentary, vaporous vision? You've seen The Impossible Dream.

8. The Crusty Gus
Tough talk from the top. Gut-level advice from a guy who's been there and back. The Crusty G describes people who have risen to the top of the American Dream and now insist on claiming that they got there through a combination of street smarts and tenacity. They've been insulated from the grimy reality by legions of obsequious minions who answer their cell phone calls while they play golf, but no matter. It's all from the gut.

9. Chipping the Obsidian
Thanks to Don Francisco of the Francisco Group for this one. This is the moment where you perform a mundane task and get hailed as a hero. He wrote a press release for a company that didn't understand how to articulate their business plan. "I brought fire to the cave!" is how he described the moment. Success followed.

10. House of Memos
When you can describe your career as a series of well-written, terse memos that no one ever reads. While depressing at first, the House of Memos becomes a comfy cave after 10 years that lets you bask in nostalgia.

11. The Fat Pipe
A few years ago, I was working on a story on how the Internet is really a conduit for discarded, forgotten media to find a new market. Wired's Chris Anderson called it "The Long Tail." He went on to fame and fortune afterward. I was tinkering with The Fat Pipe. The situation describes those who flit at the borders of a great idea but never articulate it and end up wallowing in mediocrity.

Stands for Lick My Sweaty Toe Partitions. Anytime you want to insult someone in an e-mail without letting them know it.