On agreeing to a vocabulary

Here is what we joke about conferences, everybody (audience, speakers, and event managers) starts with ‘a need to agree‘ on something early morning.┬áThis could range from “innovation is critical to success of business/India”, “gamification is revolutionizing business process”, “stories are the next strategy” or something like that. By end of day after speakers speaking, audience listening and event managers buzzing, the host notes that ‘all have agreed‘ on what we began with as a need, marking the successful close of the conference.

What happens in between is forcing a choice between competing sets of vocabulary, and each trying to push the other out. Even within one vocabulary, speakers/participants lean towards a specific sub set.

Here is where the conflict lies, and below examples as I noticed in a recent conference.

1. Visibility versus viability, while who ever is on stage successfully runs a viable business or used to, everyone else is simply looking to be more visible, like a 70 word intro before a 15 word question to speakers, or other plugs.

2. Cost versus price, this one is common even while the discussion is about pricing, most participants confuse it with their costs, and unable to rephrase / appreciate a concept for price. I think this is a genuine psychological inertia that is exhibited.

3. Revenue versus capitalization, most speakers agree that while the real deal for any valuation should actually be the revenues, most tech ventures are traded for capitalization. And who decides this price, the banker / investor / startup / someone else. In any case the switch to the higher number (usually capitalization) is towards resolving the first conflict of visibility versus viability.

4. Sales versus marketing, even if a session is about writing an advertorial or sponsored tweet, most confuse it with sales, this chunking of ‘sales and marketing’ is a way to avoid any responsibility in it, “…see I am techie…, the other guy in my team does all that”

5. Problem versus opportunity, not much of a conflict in this one, but still this comes to play when you are inside an already running business, best resources are staffed in the largest / most profitable current account fixing issues to keep the customer and not the most promising opportunity of acquiring a new (possibly less painful) customer. (the ‘strategic account’ conversation for another day)

Point I am trying to make is simple, to choose a field means adopting its vocabulary and its conflicts, and with changing fashions/fads if your vocabulary does not evolve as well, you are outdated even before you started.


Org Vocabulary

All jobs include a vocabulary exercise, be it responding to a prospect need, or writing your appraisal or coming up with a methodology/strategy or just speaking publicly for a change especially KM jobs. What differentiates departments/companies is not their vocabularies but their stories and it takes long time to catch stories from different contexts.

Anyways problems of attrition in my industry gave rise to other problems as people migrated from company to company with their vocabulary.
To such an extent that even slidewares and pitches (to specific egos) across vendors started to sound same. I have heard vendor selectors claiming “that just changing the master layout of your presentation will make it exactly same as what I saw with the last vendor prospect”. I also know of some real stories when people moved from one large vendor to other with their slideware, actually confused these selectors because it was exactly the same “methodology”.

Second of the problem that arises from vocabulary is, for those that stuck around and got older in parent companies without switching. These seniors were stuck with limited stories in a restricted vocabulary/language of the company they are loyal to. That in itself is not the problem, it becomes one if all they have is old stories to make new changes in the enterprise, because nobody feels that story (distant in space, time and intent) and language itself has shifted to something else that these seniors cannot speak.

So sparking action internally or selling to your boss or prospect almost becomes impossible just by changing vocabulary or being stuck with one for too long.

What do you think KM Managers should do? What story should be listened? retold?