Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Just words...

Business has a jargon like every field of human activity. But business has something else: a unique ability to distort and pervert words. In fact there are a few words that simply drive me nuts when I speak to customers and partners simply because they are often either meaningless or covering up realities we don't like to admit:

  • strategic - often used to speak about initiatives that are risky and not supported by plans and actions to manage risk and help achieve intended business benefits... which also go unstated when (top) managers or entrepreneurs say something is "strategic"

  • partnership - used to describe unspecified relationships between business entities all of which seek specific resources or benefits that none of the "partners" is able or immediately willing to provide, so we patch together a statement about a "partnership" just to stay positive

  • synergies - perhaps one of the most beautiful words especially in a context of scarce environmental resources, but perhaps also the most perverted of words in business. Used to speak about (unspecified) justifications for putting together activities or combining assets. In fact it is a "cover up" word that sounds better than "lay-offs" or "discontinued operations" or "cost cutting". So more often than not the trigger to use "synergies" is fear to state intended business benefits especially if said benefits are achieved at the expense of people or local communities

  • historic - a "historic" situation is a messy situation for which nobody has a better explanation but "it's always been done like that" and which nobody wants to incur the cost of reforming. So "historic" describes a mess we'd rather keep as is until somebody else gets the job and charge of it

  • alliance - a slightly clearer situation than a partnership, but usually a reflection of the creation of a temporary situation until the relative situations of the allied parties evolve to the point of allowing one or more of them to clarify the alliance thing by acquiring the other parties. Here the use of the word is a reflection of the fear to alienate one or more parties whose competition we're better off avoiding

  • integration - usually used in more technical contexts to speak about work to bring together the platforms" or tools of two organizations especially when the dominant organization is fearful of admitting publicly that their platform will end up replacing the one of the "weaker" party even irrespective of functional merit of said platform

So to sum it up:

  • before doing something (often dumb) and not well thought through in terms of expected business benefits we call it "strategic"

  • if we cannot access the assets we're looking for the move takes the form of the "partnership"

  • and if the other party is a bit too strong to be swallowed we set up an "alliance"

  • but once the dust has settled and we can simply acquire the other party, we start an "integration" program

  • and, years down the line, when things go sour on a poorly designed move we call the situation "historic"

Of course since the average tenure of a CEO of a public company in the US is 18 months and people change jobs more and more often, parts of the economy become a big game of throwing the hot potato around... measured in GDP/capita of course.

Creative approaches to fighting climate change