We are much given to describing activities as ‘journeys’. A project, the customer experience, even our own personal development is all described that way.
A journey is then depicted as if it were a physical movement from one place to another. We talk about the target on the horizon, we discuss the progress we have made (especially when it is hard to see that the target has moved any closer) by ‘looking back at where we have come from’. We talk about overcoming obstacles, and we risk being diverted.
At my father’s funeral, the vicar described life as a journey, and death as being footsteps that took us over the horizon, out of sight – the implication being that just because we could no longer see my father around didn’t mean he wasn’t there just beyond our horizon.
The other meaning of journey is in the sense of discovery. ‘We’re on a journey together’ is likely to mean we have no idea what we are doing but we’ll thrash around a bit and all agree that we’re doing something different. We discovered something along the way, probably about ourselves, so it must be better, or at least ok, now. Such journeys often run out of steam, get forgotten and in reality achieve nothing.
The whole point is that people are often at their least creative when just doing things. We get bored. We go through the motions. So, to make a difference, we believe we need a mission, a target, a purpose. Business as usual is considered unfocussed, things drift, there is no sense of purpose after a time – without the next mission, and the journey to achieve it we cannot reach the next objective on an unending succession of targets.
The etymological root of the word “journey” is the French for day – “jour”. A journey used to be a long distance travel – taking at least a day. I find it interesting that a now obsolete meaning of the word is a quantity of goods or coins that was carried on what we now call a journey.
Turning complex interactions and multiple events into a readily understood metaphor serves its purpose though. It makes things that are out of any one person’s control appear to be on a human scale. It defines a start point and an end point. It gives meaning, a sense of purpose. In that sense it is helpful, even if many of the parameters are essentially arbitrary.