Just as Dr. Frankenstein stood over his monster beaming with self-satisfaction, so too do consultants today find themselves at conference tables across the land uttering Franken-phrases then standing back with the same maniacal glee in their eyes.
If the Lab is where Dr. Frankenstein went to create his monster, then the conference room is where consultants go to create theirs…the operating table is supplanted by the conference table and PowerPoint serves as the bolt of lightning.
As tongue-in-cheek as this metaphor may be, it's appropriateness is nonetheless spot on. For just as Dr. Frankenstein used viable limbs and body parts to create his monster, so too do many of us find themselves taking words and phrases that have real meaning and sewing them together to create grotesque monsters.
The prevalence of jargon is everywhere.
And while Dr. Frankenstein only created one monster, these Franken-phrase monsters are more like viruses that spread at an exponential rate, infecting everything they touch.
There used to be a time at which jargon served a purpose – it was a shorthand for complicated concepts that allowed discussions to move quickly forward. You could think of jargon as a zip file of ideas…but in order for that to be accurate both parties, the one sending the zip file and the one receiving it, must have the ability to unpack them. And in today's world that has become the exception rather than the rule.
Unfortunately, today, jargon is used as a weapon rather than a bridge; being used to intimidate and show superiority. Used in meetings, it creates an "emperor’s new clothes" situation, where we all fear looking unsophisticated and are unwilling to ask, “what on earth does ‘heuristic implications of community building’ even mean?”!
But it is not too late for both consultants and clients to reclaim jargon and move it from the pejorative to the positive. First and foremost, we all must be willing to ask questions that do not attempt to emulate the jargon we have heard, but instead to simplify it. Whenever we replicate these phrases it makes the Franken-phrase monster even stronger.
Our industry would be better served by sticking to the concept that is being discussed rather than being distracted by the terminology thrown about. When discussing how to get groups of donors to work in concert, rather than ask "how can we ensure synergies create lift amongst our communities of merit?" let’s keep it simple.
No matter what Franken-phrase is thrown out, these three simple questions can keep a meeting on target and the outcomes are actually valuable:
1. What does that mean in plain English?
2. How would you explain this to a 12-year-old?
3. Does this solve the problem or repackage it?
For every piece of jargon out there, you should be able to answer all three of those questions each time you hear (or say!) "The complexities of the narrative have created an oscillating ROI among high impact constituencies." If you can't, then be afraid, because you have a monster sitting at your conference table.
Sure, we're not the only industry that uses jargon. But wouldn't it be great if we were the first ones to stop using it?
Want to build your own jargon? Come check out our lab at www.theharringtonagency.com/jargon and see what Franken-phrases you can create!