Don’t be like the pointy-haired boss

Dilbert comic strip 9-Jan-2013

Big data. The cloud. Actionable analytics. Three phrases that have crept into the business lexicon and that are bandied about freely in many workplaces, sometimes by people who do broadly understand their meanings but more frequently by some (especially managers) who want to impress their co-workers, seem cool by using the latest lingo, or employ a little control freakery because it’s in their nature to do so.

There is some reality behind the humour displayed in today’s Dilbert comic strip you see here. It’s in the nature of human beings to use jargon that only a select few understand: we like to impress others with our cool-ness. Yet with lack of understanding by others comes lack of commitment and effectiveness which may result in the plunge of productivity that Dilbert envisions.

Technical jargon is ripe for this kind of thing (time to update buzzword bingo). The fact is, though, that jargon of every type is everywhere in business. It can be fun to understand usages at times – for instance, I get joy out of reading Tony Thorne’s Bizwords column in Highlife magazine every time I fly British Airways.

But as a communicator, don’t fall into the Dilbert trap (or better said, the pointy-haired boss trap). And if you do insist on using jargon like the phrases mentioned here, at least have some kind of understanding of what they mean when someone challenges you to explain what you mean when you ask “Do we have any actionable analytics from our big data in the cloud?”

If I asked such a question, here’s how I might re-phrase it when someone in my group says “Huh?”

What do the results of the Christmas online sales figures tell us about customer buying habits that give us insight into what our best steps are in improving the customer experience on our website?

See what I did there? In this example, I focused on the “actionable analytics” element of the jargon-filled original question that is the whole point: the other jargon words are totally irrelevant. The re-phrased question might even be a candidate for a Plain English award!

Overall point: avoid jargon wherever possible if your goal is to enable others to understand what you mean and, thus, be able and willing to take the desired action arising from your question.

As for Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss’ admonition that “in-memory computing will accelerate your applications,” I wonder how he’d explain that. Isn’t it just jargon?

Very characteristic of pointy-haired bosses everywhere.