Purpose – To analyse common metaphors used in the intellectual capital (IC) and knowledge
management literatures to conceptualise knowledge, in order to study the nature of the intellectual
Design/methodology/approach – A textual analysis methodology is used to analyse texts from
The Knowledge-Creating Company by Nonaka and Takeuchi, Working Knowledge by Davenport and
Prusak and “Brainpower” by Stewart, in order to identify underlying metaphors.
Findings – Over 95 per cent of the statements about knowledge identified are based on some kind of
metaphor. The two dominant metaphors that form the basis for the concept of intellectual capital are
“knowledge as a resource” and “knowledge as capital”.
Research limitations/implications – Metaphors highlight certain characteristics and ignore
others, so the IC community should ask itself what characteristics of knowledge the “knowledge as a
resource” and “knowledge as capital” metaphors ignore.
Practical implications – Knowledge has no referent in the real world and requires metaphor to be
defined, conceptualised, and acted upon. When using such metaphors we should become aware of their
limitations as they steer us in certain directions and this may happen unconsciously. The paper
concludes by asking whether we need new metaphors to better understand the mechanisms of the
knowledge economy, hence allowing us to potentially change some of the more negative structural
features of contemporary society.
Originality/value – This paper is the first to highlight that intellectual capital is a metaphor and
that the metaphorical nature of the concept has far reaching consequences.