Hello SOTGC community,
For those of you who had the pleasure of meeting Scot Elder Esq. through his previous interview with us, here is another great post that he wrote for SOTGC. Like I said in his interview, I first met Scot when my previous company was bought by Medtronic, and at our first National Sales Meeting they gave him the honor of presenting for an hour…before lunch…about compliance. So he was speaking to over 150 sales people…who were bored…restless…and hungry….I’m sure he was very excited about this placement. That being said, I don’t think I have laughed more (not at the actual subject matter, but the fun way he presented it) for any other presentation…except for maybe the guy they brought in who ran a negotiations seminar and looked and spoke like Chris Farley’s “Matt Foley, Living In A Van…Down By The River.” Below is a great post about proper communication in the workplace…and can translate into our personal lives as well.
Oscar Wilde once said that “[a]ction is the last resource of those who know not how to dream.” I’m not really sure what that means, exactly, but I do know that I’m not one of those people. I, for one, know how to dream. I dream big. And I dream of the day that corporate jargon will vanish like a trailer park in a tornado. The time has come for us to rise up and revolt against “low hanging fruit,” “hired guns,” “blue-sky thinking” and all other forms of corporate colloquialisms that we all seem to use like a 10-year old uses AA batteries (i.e., quite often and for everything).
I’m not saying that we have to “boil the ocean” here. No, of course not. Far be it from me to even suggest we do something like that, right? I mean, we’ve all been in meetings where somebody has played the “boil the ocean” card and, in response, everybody raises their eyebrows and nods their heads in unison as if to suggest “I could not have said it better myself.” This usually causes the user of the phrase to have a look of self-satisfaction on his face like he either just cured cancer or finally came to the realization that that he truly is the “Steve Jobs of Middle Management” and that he owes it to humanity to share his managerial gift with the world in some meaningful way. I hate that look.
Why do I care so much? More importantly, why do I think you should care about “10,000 foot views,” “shotgun approaches,” “ah hah moments,” “pushing the envelope” or “thinking outside the box”? I mean, if somebody wants to “get granular,” “do a deep-dive,” “get lost in the weeds” and/or “set up a straw-dog” or two shouldn’t it be their business? Wouldn’t it be best to just let them “do all the heavy lifting,” create “action items,” or have an “end-user perspective” if they want to?
To answer these questions, I humbly pose the following question of my own: What does the phrase “boil the ocean” even mean? The answer frankly seems to depend on who you ask. I asked several colleagues and to some it means “an impossible or enormously complex task.” Others think it means “to make a task or project unnecessarily difficult” (which is essentially the opposite of the previous interpretation). Still others think it means, simply, to “go overboard.” I asked one colleague who shrugged and thought it meant “to waste time.” Who knows? Exactly. This is precisely the reason why we should stop using the phrase – and all others like it – and instead just start saying what we mean.
Being clear and concise in our communications is essential in today’s workplace. The difference between success and failure is often seemingly little things – like what we say and how we say it to people. John F. Kennedy was a master of effective and clear communication. Kennedy said before a joint session of Congress 50 years ago, “This nation should commit to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” The importance of Kennedy’s proclamation is well established both then and now, but the reason it was so effective was because there was no doubt what he was talking about and what he meant. There was no mention of “action items,” “pushing the envelope,” picking any “low hanging fruit” or “leveling the playing field” with the Russians (who, at the time, were ahead of the United States in the “Space Race” by a considerable distance). In short, the man said what he meant and, consequently, people did what he said.
We cannot expect others to accomplish concrete outcomes if we are not concrete in what we expect them to accomplish. Communicating in a clear and concise fashion is easier said than done, but it is critical if we are to maintain focus on what is important. It also takes courage, as well, because it sometimes requires a decision to be made in the face of uncertainty. Kennedy, for example, had no way of knowing success could even be had when he said what he did – and there were many experts who had their doubts – and while the world watched, but he nevertheless had the courage to say what he meant. To fall back on vague and sometimes meaningless corporate jargon is a way of putting off a decision or identifying a desired goal, consequence or outcome. It essentially gives people (including yourself) an “out,” which erodes accountability, focus and success. Instead, we should be as specific about not just what is to be achieved or accomplished but when it must occur. For even the enormous consequence of sending a man to the moon and getting him safely back again, Kennedy gave a target date which proved to be essential in focusing the efforts of those who he expected to make it happen.
I know that I’m not telling you something that you don’t already know. This isn’t a “game changer” for your “stakeholders”, nor is this a “bait and switch,” “brain dump” or “silver bullet” – whatever that even means. As Edward R. Murrow once said, “we shouldn’t mistake slogans for solutions.” Indeed.