East Coast Roadshow: The Irregular Verbs of Business

By | July 20, 2009

The Irregular Verbs of Business

Bernard: It’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it: I have an independent mind; you are an eccentric; he is round the twist.

The nature of my trade is that I listen to academics and industry speakers across a range of related business fields, and the nature of my sideline interests is that I spend a lot of time online reading blogs, listening to people talk shop about their trades, and usually speak in crisp, clear and totally precise phrases and terms that are native to their industries.  And this is where I encounter the irregular verbs of business mindset that goes like this

  • I have technical terms.
  • We have shared understanding.
  • Marketing has buzzwords.

I went to a marketing conference recently where everyone spoke the same business dialect, and we were able to quickly, cleanly and relatively precisely communicate ideas within our shared framework.  For what it’s worth, no-one actually said “leverage core competency[1]” since that’s a management phrase.  We talked, swapped ideas, and looked at how we could share our technical understanding of our discipline with each other.

It felt like the presentations I watched at the BarCampCanberra where the UX or social media people spoke to each other, and whilst I had no idea what half of the shorthand language meant, I knew that I was watching compressed language in action.  Both the audience and speaker respected their terminology, and each other’s rights to speak in trade language in front of an audience that they couldn’t guarantee also spoke the same trade dialect.

Lately it’s started to bother me that many of the technical language dominated areas such as  social media and UX  have picked up a habit of disregarding the technical languages of other discipline areas as “meaningless buzzwords and jargon”  whilst proceeding to produce a veritable encrypted dialect of their own. If I see one more encrypted language post or tweet containing the code word “engagement”, I’m going to ask for the speaker to spell out in detail what they’re saying, since I’m never entirely sure that I know what they think the word means, or if there even is a consensus on the meaning.   Same goes for those who break out “connected” and “conversation” when talking about unidirectional broadcast blogging.

This links to a second problem I’m seeing show up rapidly as a relative outsider to the social media trade language.  “Conversational”, “conversation” and the fast and loose application of these terms to technology is the one that’s got me most uncertain that people are saying what I think they mean, and meaning what I think they’re saying.  Conservatively speaking, conversation is one of those things where it takes two or more to tango, and I’ve watched more than enough solo dance numbers in the “conversation sphere” recently.  I tend to read blog posts, journal updates and the like soon after they’ve been posted, and long before the replies arrive.   For me, over here in marketing, the difference between monologue and talking to yourself is having an audience. The difference between monologue and conversation is having both of us on the same stage at the same time. Twitter, IRC, MSN, chat rooms (yes, chatrooms. Still out there, still in use) have conversations.  Everyone on the same stage, same time, and able to talk (or write) in semi-real time to each other.

More and more though, I see the blogs as a soliloquies and the comments section as monologues and prepared speeches. It’s like ASCII question time – with less Dorothy Dixers and more civilised debate.  I see real time (or near real time) as the conversations (because my understanding of conversation has the dynamic of faster interactins), and blogging as the stump speeches.  But is that what others see?  Because if it isn’t, then shouting “conversational engagement” becomes unhelpful at best and meaningless at worst. Since I think it means Twitter, and you think it means Facebook and they think it means blogging, the lack of shared meaning means an empty language term that could swiftly fall into the “nominee for buzzword of the week” category if marketers wanted to start playing tit-for-tat

Which, really, I don’t want to do.  I’m from marketing, we speak in codes, tongues and technical terms. I respect that about my trade, and I respect that about your trade as well.  I just need you to realise that your codes, your dialects and more complex shorthand needs translating for me as much as mine does for you. Let’s share the respect, build the language translators, dictionaries and try to avoid being divided by a common language, and can the habital defensiveness of shouting “Buzzwords” at my technical language.

After all, those words conversational, conversation and engagement? I don’t think they means what I think you think I think they mean[2].
[1] FWIW, “leverage core competency for synergies” means

  • Improve another aspect of our life/business/work/project (leverage)
  • by using the parts/processes/tricks of what we do really well somewhere else in the organization (core competencies)
  • so we get the most out of what we put into the project  / maximum gain from minimum input  (synergy).

Best example: When the Planeteers combine their available powers to summon Captain Planet, they’re leveraging their core competency for synergy by calling in the plot resolving greater-than-sum-of-parts deus ex machina.  It should also be noted that I can’t actual say the word synergy outloud. Something about synergy being connected to the Planeeters means it’s on the Trebuchet List.

[2]And if there’s one thing we know for sure in marketing, is that you never, ever start a land war in Asia under any circumstance. Ever. You’re far better going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Much greater chance of success