Archive for January 2012
Step into a marketing meeting in any medical device firm in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and be assaulted by a barrage of acronyms. Those uttering the abbreviations assume everyone present knows what they mean—or not. Some climbing their ladder speak precisely to show they know way more than others sitting around the room. For those, language is less about communication and more about one-upsmanship. Certain words signal a superior knowledge, a sort of Gnostic approach to the workplace that demands allegiance and, frankly, a bit of awe for all listening. When the exceptional words are spoken, a hush falls. And not just because most people don’t have a clue what was just said. But also because the words hint at some brave new insight (often just as obscure). Much of which is counter-productive to getting work done as others scramble to decode the awesome insider lingo.
Then again, what is “work”? Is work the climb up through the corporate-playground jungle bars to reach the top where the cool kids hang? Or is work about serving some need or group not immediately at hand? For most of us, work is a mix of the two. Usually we hire on because of the mission only to get embroiled in the politics. Part and parcel.
Good work begins by flogging the Gnostic. Flogging the Gnostic means slowing the flow of incomprehension with questions that penetrate to the sinew of a larger idea (or at least a benefit). Exposing the Gnostic is all about cutting to the bone of language that your true, final audience will understand. All the better if you can dissect to a simple, sticky, credible, believable idea anyone could understand.
For better or worse, flogging the Gnostic usually begins with your own inner Gnostic. Certainly you’ve felt the magnetic pull to parrot the word your boss/client just said, that magic word-of-the-moment that instantly captured attention. Better to aim right at the final audience, right through the BS, right through the acronym salad, straight to the folks you are trying to serve.
As a consultant my role is often to shun the insider language and play dumb (an easy task for me). This is the only way to build toward an actionable, sticky idea that communicates, no matter what it looks like to those playing the insider game.
Resolved: this week I will flog the Gnostic.
Minnesota Public Radio’s Martin Moylan reported Wednesday on Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn’s use of his blog to respond to media coverage of Best Buy’s business model. Moylan cited a recent critical commentary in Forbes magazine which received 2.3 million page views. In his blog Dunn responded to the critics but also tempted fate by leaving his blog open for comments.
A quick glance through the comments shows all manner of agreement, disagreement, and vehement disagreement. Just like real people talking. It’s a messy mess of messages that point every direction all at the same time. And everyone can read it.
This, friends, is the future of conversation at an institutional level. Once people are given their voices back, they speak what they feel and sometimes what they know. But the act of listening is a huge hurdle and Mr. Dunn and his team did the commendable, credible thing by leaving it out in public for all to see.
We have a long, venerable history of jumping on market leaders, big notable institutions and authorities. There is something exhilarating about finding fault with those who seem to run the world, whether it’s Best Buy, Comcast, AT&T, Microsoft. Or the city council or the board of elders at church. Or elderly mom and dad. Or God. Sometimes they deserve it. Sometimes not. But the conversation is useful for lots of different purposes, including hinting at what is going on inside us.
Brian Dunn: thank you for your courage in letting people talk back. My estimation of Best Buy rose as I read the comments.
One thing that happens in a conversation is that we become available to each other. It’s a function of simply talking. But what if our talk was all bound up with the baggage of our intent? We want to be seen as a certain person. Wise. Funny. Clever. So we use pre-fab phrases and clichés and stories heard elsewhere. Nothing wrong with that, but at some point we need to drop the modular phrases and really tell who we are. This is part of being present.
I’m a fan of the writer/theologian/activist/martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His clear writing never fails to pull me in. And I love how he raises my eyes to see what a people could look like who love God together. In Life Together he wrote that brotherhood (or “fellowship” a word desperately in need of rehab) is not some ideal we strive toward or some pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, if only we could get our ducks in a row, shape up, and all that “I’ve got to do better” stuff. Instead brotherhood is a “…reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” (Life Together, 30) Bonhoeffer suggested that in this reality, it is not the man or woman “furnished with exceptional powers, experience, and magical, suggestive capacities” (32) who has the ability to bind others to her or himself. Instead, the real power is what God says. The Wikipedia entry on Life Together is thought-provoking:
Bonhoeffer felt strongly that there is an empirical experience that results from meeting with others to become intimate before Christ. He suggests that Christians should confess their sins to one another. He states, “The church community, not some philosophical or theological system of thought, is God’s final revelation of the divine self as Christ existing in community”. In other words, Christians should not wait for a revelation from God before they do something, but because they are continuously and prayerfully considering what is right, it is possible that God has already revealed His will to them and they need to summon up the courage to take the appropriate actions.
Yesterday’s postcard from chesed talked about the ways of the Eternal One with the wicked and the righteous. For the wicked: separation. For the righteous: presence. Except that’s not the image painted on the card. The image had two parts: one was like a desert with scorching winds, smelling of sulfur and raining coals. One part was a face. God’s face.
I cannot claim any righteousness, except in agreement with Bonhoeffer about what the Christ did. I mostly live my life on the other end of the spectrum. And yet the picture of radical availability gives me a bit more courage to hide less and pursue being available.
Image Credit: Bad Postcards