Mind your language
As January’s ‘creativity month’ comes to an end, 44’s Bryan Jones looks at how the words you use around your business help shape its culture…
Here at 44 we celebrated creativity month during January. It wasn’t too difficult to join the party – we have a creative culture, working collaboratively to come up with stuff for our clients that’s unique, compelling and unexpected.
It’s easy to take for granted, but we’re surrounded by creativity every hour of the working day – it’s an integral part of the daily life of designers, writers and project managers.
What we sometimes overlook when we talk about our ‘creative culture’ is the effect the language we use around the office – both written and verbal – has on the fabric of our business.
I come from a journalistic background, so I’ve been trained to use direct, straightforward language in more or less everything I do.
One of my favourite journo mates used to say he spoke two languages – English and foul. That’s just how it was in the newspaper offices of bygone days.
When I moved into internal communications, I discovered people used a completely new language where they talked about engagement, the employee experience, cascading information. What was this hocus pocus?
Of course, everywhere you go you’ll find unique ‘dialects’ – whether it’s in your own home, in the school playground, at the sports ground, at your local supermarket.
In a typical business, talk comes loaded with acronyms, slang, inside jokes and made-up words.
Here at 44 we have a ‘pod structure’ – doesn’t make sense to anyone else, but once you’ve worked here a couple of hours you understand what it means. We have a morning ‘huddle’, and the pods have their own ‘puddles’. Designers talk about scamps, conceptuals, visuals, mock-ups. Writers discuss standfirsts, pull-out quotes, sidebars and blob pars.
We all have clients who use their own special language that, at first, is totally undecipherable and baffling.
Much of this, I guess, grows naturally out of the need for efficiency – shortening names of reports, projects, departments – but it can also become a shield against outsiders, a barricade to interference. I’m sure you’ll also have come across people who use complicated language to give the impression that simple jobs are more important than they really are.
The positive side is that the creative use of your own ‘in-house’ language can foster a sense of unity and membership, reinforcing a sense of community.
So the message is, encourage your people to be creative with the language they use, while embracing and welcoming the words used by other businesses and stakeholders. Ha… ‘stakeholders’ – there’s another word I’d never have used when I was working for a newspaper (unless I was talking about a gang of rampant vampire hunters).
But a word from the wise… ‘Do keep it simple’.
This quote comes from someone who knows a thing or two about creativity and success in business… see if you can guess who said it.
“In business, language is often used as a weapon. Sharp-suited businesspersons can try to intimidate with complicated wordplay and hide behind acronyms, when all that is needed is simple terms to explain the issues. I always stop people who are overcomplicating things and ask them to put it in plain terms. If they can’t, what they are talking about is probably not worth the trouble. The same goes with business pitches – if you can’t explain it on the back of an envelope, it’s probably rubbish.”
Like him or not – Richard Branson knows what he’s talking about!