What was that phrase you used?
Most of us intellectually appreciate the need for having a common language to communicate with our team mates and associates. On the positive side, we fully appreciate when we use certain language (sometimes called jargon) amongst our peers, that it affords a kind of short-cut. We can communicate large amounts of content – and context as well – with a an economy of verbiage.
To the contrary, we have all been on both the giving and receiving end of the kinds of conversations that begin… “What I meant to say was…” or “I thought you understood it when I said…” or “What did he mean by that?” or my personal favorite, “But you said right here in this email…” Without belaboring the point in our discussion here, you certainly know that when a conversation starts with acknowledgement of confusion, somewhere/somehow the language broke down… and what followed was likely problematic to you.
Of course every type of business or industry generates its own language… a biz speak that helps communicate via shorthand the commonly and frequently used concepts and activities of that particular type of enterprise endeavor. The jargon, buzzwords, clichés, colloquialisms, and vernacular serve to create a useful vocabulary that supports the operation and performance of the workers and managers involved in the business.
It is no different with the knowledge game. In fact, the entire purpose of the enterprise knowledge game is to communicate relevant, important content from one person to another, and do so with economy of effort and timeliness of delivery. So therein lies an amazing irony. The daily enterprise activities associated with the knowledge game – the part of the enterprise that exists for the very purpose of clarity, precision, completeness, and efficiency in communication – is often an area where there is a most outrageous lack of a common language.
One of the primary issues underlying the disinterest, confusion, skepticism, and lackluster performance of in the 21st Century enterprise, is the sloppy use of terms and phrases.
Same words, new meanings
20 years ago terms that are commonplace in the contemporary knowledge game, meant something very different than they do now, in the 21st Century enterprise: learning, training, teaching, mentoring, information, data, IT… and even the term “knowledge”. To take a few examples…
- 20 years ago structured training was predominantly held in the classroom. An employee went to a school-style classroom setting and received lectures which were occasionally accompanied with group exercises and a test or two. In 2007, for example, in the newly released Microsoft Official Distance Learning (MODL) product, there is a single course (equivalent to a 40 hour classroom experience) that has 370 individual interactions – including a blend of collaborative interactions, case study activities, brainstorm white-boarding, media clips, demonstrations, interactive scenarios.
So imagine if you used the word “training” – intended in the 2007 context – and an image of a 1995 classroom reflexively came to my mind.
- 20 years ago information technology was largely a province of a handful of wizards behind the curtain in the air conditioned room with the big computers. MS Windows as most of us are now familiar with, was released in 1990
So imagine if you used the word “information technology” – intended in the 2007 context – and an image of a 1984 Mac came to my mind. We are exaggerating just a bit here to make a point, but the premise is very clear: when you use a key phrase or term in a discussion with another listener, the definition you intend to convey may not be the definition that audience receives. And if that disconnect occurs, all bets are off for that audience getting your point.
- 10 years ago, for all purposes, these terms did not even exist – knowledge assets, knowledge economics, and knowledge supply chain.
We strongly recommend that if the enterprise intends to elevate its knowledge game, then a standardized glossary should be established.
Three value-laden purposes for a glossary
In truth there are a significant variety of good, solid business reasons for taking the time to build and implement a standardized glossary for the enterprise. Here are three purposes for establishing a knowledge supply chain glossary.
1. To standardize language: provide clear definition, grammatical and/or semantic interpretation for commonly used terms, well publicized and reinforced by management, that can be used for all enterprise communications and documentation.
2. To disambiguate terms: establish a standardized glossary that helps remove the ambiguity from common terms and phrases, as illustrated in the examples above.
3. Introduction of new terms: the glossary becomes an obvious platform for introduction of new terms and language that add increased clarity and richness to enterprise vocabulary.
The end result of fulfilling one or more of these purposes is value that is immeasurable… the enterprise will elevate its knowledge game almost as a side effect of the additional, substantial clarity and significant efficiency in communication and project activity alignment.
To emphatically position the point here, a “knowledge language” glossary is an invaluable insurance policy against miscommunication within the enterprise. AS LONG AS… everyone knows that the knowledge game glossary does indeed exist, and they further know where they can access it… conveniently and readily.
The glossary for the I-N Context: blog is a dynamic document, which we are constantly revisiting and updating with new terms and refined terminology. As you can see in this post, we frequently use the glossary via hyper-links that access the words we use. You can also jump to our glossary via the link at the top of each article in the navigation bar under the headline banner.