Cult of Words


Patrick Tomasso

There is a phenomena that has really taken off in the past decade and, to be quite honest, it is quite annoying.  Words, specific words, words that describes trends, words that imply a certain attitude or function, words that match what the organization is striving for, those words are being abused.

I was talking to someone recently who had been told that every business case they wrote needed to include the words “transform” and “innovation”.  Why?  Because the organization is trying to “transform” and become more “innovative”.  They have raised specific words to a cult-like status.

But do the words have any meaning?  Do the words really signify what they are supposed to identity?

No, not at all.  The word “transform” is so over-used that the meaning of it has been lost.  The most minor change is now “transformative”.  Filling in a PDF and printing it out is considered transformative because, well, you didn’t have to print your answer on the form.  It’s not transformative.  It’s no longer innovative.  Oh, in 2001 it may have been, but not anymore.  (Disclaimer:  in 1997 I was part of a team that allowed physiotherapists for the WCB to enter in information on a screen and then it would create a PDF that could be sent to the WCB.  Yes, 21 years ago.  That’s almost older than some of you reading this.)

Doing the same thing now is downright old-fashioned.  It’s not innovative and it’s not transformative.  Think about how many forms you fill in at work.  Why is it a form in the first place.  Build a front end, make it mobile enabled so that people can fill it out whenever and wherever they want.  Accept data into your systems instead of propagating the idea that forms are the best way to deal with requests.

When you place an order through the Starbucks app, do you have to print it out and give it to the cashier to enter into their system?  When you order from Skip the Dishes, you pick what you want and then call a phone number to enter it into their system?  Do you search through a catalogue, find what you want and then have to print off the form and mail it or call it in because they don’t accept web orders?

These are all things that were solved decades ago and yet people will bring these items up today and call them innovative and transformative.  Wow.

But was it even more worrisome is that merely using the words, highlighting the words that people are expecting to hear, is actually effective.  Instead of understanding the content they are absorbing the fluff.  In some cases it can’t be helped.  When your agenda is so packed that you are spending mere moments on each topic you may not have the opportunity to delve into the real meat of the matter.

When you are watching one of the baking shows and you see the mess that comprises one of the layers of the cake you think, “Oh, my goodness, that is a mess.”  But you know what?  Wrap it up in fondant, slap some pretty stencils on the outside, whip up some buttercream icing and *poof* you have a winner.  Looks actually count.

A lot.

And if you can make your business case look sexy, seem like it is cutting-edge because of the words you use, not because of the content, but because of the sugary sweet icing, isn’t that what getting funding is all about?

We’ve established certain words as being worthy of cult-like status and regardless of the foundation, we bend over backwards to ensure that we are innovative and transformative, even if it means filling out PDF forms instead of doing what needs to be done.

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