A lot has been written about the power and importance of language. Even more about the power of questions. And of course, most of us know that a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Yet it seems we are going so fast these days that we don’t often pay enough attention to the words, the intention or the impact. We react. We get stuck in negative patterns, beating ourselves or others up in the process. We say things without thinking, some things we can’t ever take back. We aren’t truly precise with our word choice and accidentally create confusion, or worse, conflict.
Language is especially important to me – I learned the hard way how important it is for getting along, for getting what we want and for getting ahead. I think it is the most valuable competitive advantage for my business and for yours. It goes beyond choosing the right words for our marketing though, it’s about choosing the right words for creating understanding and alignment. When on a vision quest in the Mojave Dessert, I spoke with a Shoshone Indian tribal elder who shared with me an important insight that has drive my thinking ever since. He said “The greatest power on earth lies in the true naming of things”. In other words, in accurately representing an idea, an animal, or an object in such a way as to create a mutual understanding of what is with the symbols of our sounds and words.
To be fair this is a meaty topic on which I am only going to scratch the surface. As Ian Greenleigh and I continue to share the Alynd story over the coming weeks, I want to put the spotlight on our use of language to distinguish our approach and our solution for creating accountability in teams large and small. Now that we have validated our approach with analysts, executives and customers, it’s fair to say we feel validated and are now open to sharing more of these insights. While there are many things that will set Alynd apart from competitors, the strength of our foundation is based in the choice of a more powerful language to describe what we do, to express our deeper intentions and to better connect with our customers, partners, employees, and investors.
This is also important as we convene those on the leading edge of business transformation to support our common desire for a better future of work. We need to choose the language that most accurately reflects the essence of the change we seek. We also need one that resonates with the widest swath of the community with whom we are trying to connect. In practical terms this isn’t just about the the word choice or the hashtag however, it is about the feeling we get from focusing on them and the point of focus it represents. This is in fact the real takeaway in my post “Social Business is Dead” – that the language was not resonating widely enough with those in power to create the deeper impact I and many others were seeking
In 2005/6, we began the debate about whether or not “social media” was the proper banner under which to define the world ahead (we included Brian Solis, Robert Scoble, Steve Rubel and many many others). There were a lot of conflicting points of view, all with reasonable perspectives to be considered. I argued that the most important thing wasn’t that it was ‘new’, or a version ‘2.0’ or that at the end of the day it was still just a form of ‘media’. What myself and many other voices put forward was that the most important distinction was the enhanced social functionality of the level of interactivity. It was easier for people to publish, to comment and to share. It was more about building communities around a given piece of media to be social then it was our independent consumption of it as video, audio or text. I felt that if people could understand and focus on this fundamentally different facet of the emerging media paradigm, they would do greater things with it.
From Social Business to Future of Work to ReOrg
In our recent post “It’s time for a forward thinking conversation, It’s time for a #ReOrg,” the same approach is at play. I state the most important thing is the reorganization of resources, power and structural models to better serve the modern market. This is largely about moving us towards what my friends at the Altimeter Group have called the Holistic model in their Social Business Maturity model. It is also what my friend/Alynd advisor Dave Gray calls “The Connected Company.” At the heart of it, IMHO, is the reorganization – a conscious reset of our beliefs and models based on a thorough re-imagination of how businesses are structured and operate now, versus how they might be more effective with a truly new approach. My desire to shift the conversation from #FutureOfWork to #ReOrg is based around my belief that the language we choose is important and that we should focus on what we need to be doing not an abstract direction.
Language and Connections
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
One of the great things about shared language, and now hashtags, has always been that “they create the glue that holds a community together.” Of course this extends to our daily life as well, from simple things like calling a sandwich a sub, a grinder or a hoagie. If you aren’t familiar with the local culture you wouldn’t necessarily know they are all nearly the same thing. But if you know that language, you have a special connection that takes root in your shared culture and perhaps even common geography. It is the language that demonstrates our deeper connectedness beyond what might be an ordinary moment. Unfortunately, these words and labels that connect us are also the one’s that separate us.
Find the words that best match your intentions. That captures the essence of what you are speaking about and resonates with the widest audience. Go beyond conversations to connect with others to create a movement. Focus the attention, resources and intentions of a wider community on a common outcome. In so doing to create greater value for all involved. This happens in small groups, in large companies and in large communities too. This INC article on “How Great Leaders Use the Power of Language” gets into this topic in a more meaningful way. In fact, it gets into the power to create cohesion and alignment, which is really at the heart of my thinking on this subject.
Having strong communication skills is still the most important ability when it comes to getting ahead in the work place? This is also true when it comes to getting a better salary. Being able to connect and inspire people through your words is of paramount importance when building a new company, or bringing together any group of people around a collective purpose. But not being able to communicate clearly is the basis of greater frustration – decreasing levels of trust, costly misunderstandings and ultimately a number of conflicts which can have unexpected and potentially disastrous results.
Take for instance the difference between “Let’s eat, grandma” and “Let’s eat grandma”. Not that you are feeling canabalistic, but you get my point. A missing comma, or an unintended pause can cause confusion. When we visit new countries where the language spoken there is drastically different, both the ability to connect and to have clarity is severely hampered.
But when we have the exact right phrase or word, one that we have each come to understand, that is how we find common ground. That is how we get aligned with each other. That is how we find harmony. That is how we build shared culture and ultimately build greater trust. When we understand words and phrases in the same way, we understand each other and build trust too. When we have clarity we avoid wasted effort, we minimize conflict and we can make progress together at a much greater pace.
Yet every day we agree to take on work that we don’t fully comprehend. We say yes when we mean maybe, or perhaps more often we answer maybe when we mean no – creating a misalignment of expectations that I have come to call UnPromises. This ends up causing unnecessary conflicts, wastes energy and prevents us from being our best selves. No wonder so many organizations have what many would call poor or even toxic cultures? Can you imagine what it might be like after several years if there isn’t an enlightened and inspiring leader to step in and bring everyone together? In light of that, its easy to see why it is so hard to enable older and larger organizations to thrive with collaborative cultures.
The Language of Alynd
My goal for Alynd is an extension of my life’s purpose. As I’ve been saying on stages around the world over the past decade or more, “in a knowledge economy, the number one factor affecting an organizations ability to create value is the ability of smart people to get along and work well together“. To that end I think the focus of every organizational leader should be to encourage and empower their people to work smarter together towards mutually beneficial success that creates shared value for every stakeholder, for everyone touched by the organizations and its activities. It requires a deep understanding of organizational psychology, human development and what some of us have come to call social physics. This is the reason I look at language as a competitive advantage. When we use the words that actually reflect “the true nature of things”, when we identify the words that reflect the most important areas of distinction, and when we use those words within a framework designed to facilitate alignment of purpose, interests and activities, then we can unlock our true potential for mutual success. We can drive forward greater organizational and personal outcomes simultaneously.
With Alynd, there are several word choices that distinguish our approach and reflect our deeper intentions as well as our desire to be focused on people. To design for the human to human #H2H interface instead of the computer human interface. A few of those choices and the reasoning behind each are below:
- Alynd – a dotcom based necessity of a mis-spelling of aligned, which is the primary business outcome we are seeking. to get people and their activities aligned for common purpose. Chosen in part due to the fact that it was the word I heard most during meetings and at conferences about the state of being that was sought or the problem that prevented progress. But more importantly chosen because it most fully embodies the key area of distinction that I find necessary for success. Without alignment and accountability, our chances for success are greatly diminished.
- Teams – we chose teams instead of groups to reflect the thinking that we are on the same side, working towards the same outcomes – to win together. While it is a practical synonym for groups, the added intentionality of thinking of us as a part of a team changes the relationship with cohorts and colleagues.
- Clarify – we strive to clarify our requests and our commitments instead of negotiating them. We could think of this as arbitration or negotiation, but that would presume we are on different sides, not on the same team trying to set clear expectations or determine when it might be completed.
- Commitment – at the heart of Alynd is organizing our work through the contextual lens of the commitments we make to one another so that we may better keep our word and maintain our good name. This is in contrast to thinking about our work in terms of to-do’s or action items. This is about thinking about our work WITH others, about the relationships and about imbuing a sense of personal accountability in the work we do. It is about working WITH people instead of FOR other people, and we believe this word choice, above all others, changes everything. We have written more about why this is important and how it works with Alynd in this post on The Commitment Molecule: A New View on Collaboration.
As you can see, or perhaps even feel as you read through some of my word choices and thinking here, the language we use is both important and powerful. It makes a difference in how we think and whether we can trust each other. It can lift us up and enable us to be instantly connected with a huge number of people or set us apart as foreign and even dangerous. There are numerous more examples of course, and this topic is worthy of a book on its own, but for now I was hoping to help you understand more about the Alynd difference and how it might be empower you, your team and your organization to work smarter, and better, together.
Of greater importance at this moment is to get you thinking about the power of your language and to invest greater consciousness in it. If that is the only outcome, then I have accomplished my goal of helping to reshape the world of work. I realize many of my friends and colleagues are professional communicators so this is perhaps already widely and well understood, but it is a distinction that can not be overemphasized and which requires us to come back to it often so as to get grounded again.
For me personally, there is no greater distinction of language that is more important or valuable then shifting from being task oriented to instead be focused on the commitments we make and how we honor them. This is not only a shift in language and intention, but also a shift that I believe will lead to vastly superior results personally and professionally. This is why Ian Greenleigh and I have started our new series with an explanation of the molecular structure of the commitment – so please click the link and continue reading and then sign up for the alpha, or request an invite from me personally into the private alpha.