Friday, 11 November 2011

Analogy Day: Taking Gravy Far Too Seriously

A tourist visits Toronto

In a way, I never really got the gravy metaphor. I mean, gravy is delicious. Sure, it’s something to have in moderation, but it’s also something to look forward to.

OK, I get it, the idea was to use gravy as a stand-in for the waste within City Hall and focus on the core material. But let’s step back for a moment and see if this analogy is actually a good thing. No, seriously.

2 tablespoons pan drippings
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

Gravy is a sauce made from the juices that naturally run from meat or vegetables during cooking. That’s it, not too evil. In fact, it’s a good thing. Making gravy involves taking the secondary runoff from the core material and using it to complement the meal. As opposed to, say, completely wasting that secondary material. Looked at that way, gravy is actually efficient. We take it for granted, but it uses innovative thinking to maximize the materials at hand, precisely what Rob Ford promised he would do.

I can acknowledge that gravy-as-metaphor means something else, that it’s something which is superfluous or unnecessary. Looking at it from that angle too, the gravy metaphor is limited.

When people travel and come back saying they loved a certain place, they’re not going to tell you they loved the fact that chipmunk suits weren’t expensed or a local politician didn’t throw a lavish party. Of course, these things should not be tolerated. But what people really admire in a city are the intangible bonuses. They’ll talk about how the great architecture adds to the mood and character of the city. Or they’ll talk about how pedestrian shopping provides a unique and  more meaningful way to experience the nuances of the city. Or maybe they’ll talk about a great festival or cultural event that was unique and significant to the area. These things are gravy in one sense: they add flavour to the city by using creative thinking to build on the existing structure.

That’s not waste, that’s adding value. So even the most core metaphor of the Rob Ford campaign has problems when you pick it apart. Sure, cancel your council snacks and trim expenses where possible, but the ability to distinguish between waste and value-added reuse and investment is what makes for good management. Failing that is wasting opportunities.     

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