Friday, 31 October 2014
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Leveraging Your Learnings

Time was when the “weasel word” (a catch all title for the derisory act of inventing new - or at least using in a questionable manner, existing - words) was the domain of the marketing bods.

How I and my engineering colleagues would sit back and laugh at the latest self-important invention of an inelegant term for something where adequate words already exist.

We knew it was all merely fakery deployed by the Shamen of advertising and the pompous amongst the marketing and stylistic fields. The humour as much as anything coming from the obvious nature of such things, which it has to be said rather undermines the undoubted intended effect of purveying a sophisticated air of “new ideas.”

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Avoid jargon to ensure clear communication

The English language will of course be ever evolving but this is just wilful vandalism. I remain convinced that the main driver for such things is so that some tedious dullard has the opportunity to claim “oh yes, I invented the concept of lateral stratificating optimisation (or whatever the concocted term may be). It got mentioned on page 345 of a VERY eminent text book”, to some immensely under whelmed victim at a dinner party.

The wind of change appears to be blowing through the engineering world though and unfortunately carries with it the aroma of the by-product of a certain male ruminant. I have received a number of flyers from companies containing the word “leveraging”, and not even in the context of physically applying a mechanical advantage.

These companies have an immediate disadvantage in my eyes and unless they can offer a startling benefit their literature gets filed straight in the bin. Worse than that, one of Amalgamated Products Limited’s own engineers has started brazenly flaunting the term “learnings.” I look forward to an explanation as to what the difference between “applying lessons learnt” and “applying learnings” actually is, apart from 4 letters and any sense of self-respect.

Does any of this matter? I think it does for a number of reasons. We must understand the language employed by the different disciplines we work with but we must also seek to use unambiguous and valid terms.

By adopting weasel words wholesale we not only imply our acceptance of them, we perpetuate the culture that has created them as well. All things are not black and white so some aspects of engineering are more “fluffily creative” than others, but equally this is not the central role of our profession.

Ours is more the pragmatic application of solutions through wit and an in depth knowledge of the physical world. We should hang onto and develop our own culture (usually sarcastic and cynical, although that’s possibly just me) with our own language to ensure a balance of influence in the way that projects are managed. Let the others have their thought showers whilst gazing up at their blue skies, in the mean time we shall get on with ensuring the job gets done.


Readers' comments (5)

  • At last!!! Someone who feels like me that a spade is a spade and not a " pedially assisted, solids transference facilitator".
    It is long overdue that this meaningless management speak nonsense is banished forever!
    More power to your elbow mate!

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  • and while we're at it...."METRICS"....WTF is that all about????
    Ooops! Time to get off the soapbox I fear!
    Sorry!

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  • There are probably at least 2 schools of thought on this.

    The more cynical might think that after an engineer gets sick of being "Just one of those metal bashing chappies" (or chapesses) they go and do their MBA when they get deluged in "business literature”

    Which of course leverages the authoritative advantage inherent in the context of a personal development opportunity to incubate a self-socio-developmental driven approach through applying transformative language techniques to provide a personally differentiating multiplacative step change vis-à-vis a plus-wise career trajectory.

    http://hbr.org/product/six-simple-rules-how-to-manage-complexity-without-getting-complicated/an/11408E-KND-ENG

    Or perhaps it is just that language is always changing to keep up with the changing world we are in and those nice fellows (and Fellowesses??) in academia are helping keep all of us science loving engineering types “ahead of the curve” so to speak .

    http://emergentpublications.com/eco/ECO_other/Issue_6_1-2_8_AC.pdf?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

    Although it does remind me of something a solicitor once (jokingly ?) explained to me :

    “Business speak is like that computer game... Tetris,

    people get together and take turns to see how many complicated words they can stick in one sentence and have them all cancel each other out.

    Extra points are given for using lots of large & unusual & strange shaped words and how fast you can fling them at the conversation.

    But If you end up with a complete structural meaning at the end of your turn you lose. (& probably end up signing something as a penalty)"

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  • The other thing to keep in mind is that English is (currently) the standard 'working language' globally.

    Considering we (the Brits) already have a passion for creating pointless, obtuse and sometimes downright confusing idioms which other cultures and non-native speakers can struggle to understand, the clearer we can keep the 'working tongue' the easier it will be for all involved.

    When we consider that engineering and science are becoming global professions (or at least more so than they were) maintaining this clarity and purity of communication is very important to prevent issues arising that could be very easily avoided!

    To build on Fraser's example; an English engineer orders 2 dozen "pedially assisted, solids transference facilitators" from a foreign equipment manufacturer intending to receive 24 spades. Instead he receives 24 manual wheelbarrows which technically are also "pedially assisted, solids transference facilitators"!

    Follow the KISS principle in all things and you can't really go wrong!

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  • Surely there have been those within our society -indeed they believed themselves to be at its summit!- who used foreign languages, let alone 'double-plus-good speak' (apologies to Orwell and 1984!) to keep ahead of the rest of us! M'learned friends and the vicars.

    I suggest interspersing our Engineering terminology with a few of their more outrageous examples:
    "mutatis mutandis" is used by lawyers to cover for situations where they are too lazy to give all the possible explanations.(presumably there is not enough money in it for them to do so) It means 'altered and adjusted to suit the situation' -a wonderful catch all for their errors!

    As I believe fellow bloggers will be aware, I did arrange some years ago to but several lawyers on trial in their own fields of play, using their silly rules, and beat them soundly, simply by applying scientific methods, proper rules of academic evidence and common sense.
    They did not like that situation at all as it struck at the very heart of their conn:

    On another occasion, I was an expert witness in a case. It became clear to me that the barrister who was cross-examining me did not understand the difference between heat and temperature...and I advised him that unless and until he did, my answers like his questions were meaningless.
    Collapse of stout party!

    Will matters ever alter?
    I doubt it!
    best
    Mike B

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