Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Building our next Tower of Babel

"Why someone sometimes has a great deal of difficulty understanding a point which you see as obvious, it maybe because it's a little hard to translate what you just said into his particular framework" - Richard Feynman

Had a funny conversation over the holidays that I'm sure anyone who works inside a corporation can attest to.

A friend, Friend A, was talking about someone who told someone else that they had to put her idea "in the parking lot". I had no idea what this meant. I asked if that was like "putting a pin in it", a phrase I've heard a bunch.

Someone else, Friend B, said "No, its a bit more derogatory. And like saying stop talking about it, it's off topic". Then Friend A said she had never heard of "put a pin in it". And asked what that was.

Friend C who works at the same company as Friend A said "it's an analogy to putting a pin in a grenade. And you use it to mean, let's put a pin in it to stop it from blowing up."

Well, I had to chime in and be like "Uhh, really, I thought it was like put a pin in a pinboard kind of thing. Like 'let's save it for later'". As I've relayed this story I've had other people tell me, yeah I hear that all the time, oh, but I've never heard that one.

Note that all the friends in this conversation have been working in corporate environments for many years. Even at the same places. And they have a language of code words they can't even use amongst themselves with high reliability.

We need to kill the buzzphrases. We are creating our own Tower of Babel. And for what? So we can save a couple words? Or does it make us sound cool?

If you are in a meeting using these buzzphrases, the odds are enormous some people in the room have abolutely no idea what you are talking about. There's also high odds, that someone else thinks they know what you are talking about but don't.

At Inkling, I think we do a pretty good job of just sticking to words that we think we all are going to understand. We recently banned using "FYI" even. FYI is short for "For your information". Imagine someone telling you on the street "For your information: xyz". Sounds insulting in 90% of the cases I imagine in my head. You could get beat up saying something like that. :)

Does FYI make it that much better? Maybe in only in your head it does. But for the people you are sending your FYIs to? These days we might say "heads up". Or just forget this disclaimer all together, because why don't we let the intelligent person on the other end of the note decide if this is something they need to react to or "put a pin in" "or move it to the parking lot" or "find someone with a better wheelhouse than theirs" :) What the frig is a wheelhouse?


If you have some more time to read, here's the video of Richard Feynman explaining a discovery he made in how different people can think about doing the same exact thing.

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