A friend sent me an article from a recent edition of the Harvard Journal of Management, not my normal bedtime reading. It reports how a group of scholars and business leaders came together to consider the great challenges involved in reinventing management and making it more relevant to a volatile world.
They listed 25 ‘Moon Shots for Management’ (how business loves to borrow the imagery of what it sees as more glamorous activities), including this, at number 24: Humanize the language and practice of business.
Well, at least it made it onto the list, even if preceded by other such eye-catching items as : De-structure and disaggregate the organization, or Stretch executive time frames and perspectives.
‘Tomorrow’s management systems,’ the wise men propose, ‘must give as much credence to such timeless human ideals as beauty, justice, and community as they do to the traditional goals of efficiency, advantage, and profit.’ In all fairness, a right-minded and laudable manifesto, even though I defy anyone to find the nobility in Powerpoint training.
But ‘humanising the language and practice of business’ at number 24 out of 25? Until the language of the business world is humanised, nothing else about it possibly can be. The practice simply cannot begin to reflect ‘timeless human ideals’ while the words that describe it remain impersonal and alienating; in fact, the ideas themselves can scarcely even take shape.
So let’s not forget the Gospel According to St John and its opening phrase, In the beginning was the word. ‘The word’, note, not ‘the thought’. For it’s the word that gives form to the thought. And by this reckoning, omega should become alpha, and number 24 should surely be promoted to number one. A few kind words would be a good place to start.
So let's assume word has to precede or march along simultaneously with thought…this would explain why so many corporate types spend a lot of time rationalizing and processificating, and how as adults we end up not living the values that we clearly espouse and operate to as children. My sons felt, wondered, worried, all before they were able to say that they were doing these things…and strenuously resist anyone's attempts to tell them what they are thinking or feeling. If 24 is moved up the rankings, and what we say and the way we say it begin to matter more, then we might be able to use and mean a few kind words.
Funny thing business.We're so busy proving how clever we are we forget that the most brilliant minds were, and are, able to sum up their thoughts in simple, concise sentences.It's like the people writing a lot of what passes for business prose these days don't read what they write.Maybe it's worth pointing out to them how they talk when they are filled with some primary emotion – anger or fear or love – and ask them why they are not filling their pages with similarly engaging language.Just a thought.