I heard an American radio show recently featuring prank calls. In this case a father had called in to set-up his daughter. She’d taken her car into the garage and was waiting for an estimate. Her dad said she knew nothing about cars so they could wind her up.
So the DJ phoned her and pretended to be the mechanic.
He said, “I’m afraid you’re going to need the water in your headlights changed.”
She said, “Okay, will that be expensive?”
He said, “Well it depends on what water we use.”
She said, “What sort do you normally use?”
He said, “Well we could use tap-water, it’ll do the job in the short term. But it’s not ideal.”
She said, “What do you recommend?”
He said, “Well, if you want to do the job properly I’d recommend Evian.”She said, “Okay, I guess it is the best.”
Now you might find it amazing that a grown woman agreed to have the water in her headlights changed. But, like a lot of people, she was intimidated by her own fear of looking stupid. She was convinced she knew nothing about cars and how they worked. Consequently, she was convinced that any question she asked would make her look stupid. Consequently she didn’t ask any questions. Consequently she was treated as if she was stupid.
Personally I work on the principle that knowledge comes from questioning things. If a thing is right they must be able to explain it. And if they can’t explain it, maybe it isn’t right.
That’s why, when any word crops up that I don’t understand, I immediately ask what it means. Clever people will want to explain it. People who are trying to blag me won’t. Sometimes the people who use the long words don’t even know what they mean themselves. They’re just using the word because they’ve heard someone else use it. And it sounded impressive.
So they think it’ll make them sound more impressive too. These are people who are worried about the poor quality of their thinking. They want to make it look more impressive by using long words.
I find there’s a simple equation for this. The quality of the thinking is inversely proportional to the length of the words used.
You either take a complicated thought and make it simple. Or you take a simple thought and make it complicated. Long words are the decoration, the jewellery, the chrome. Long words are the bling. This season’s must-have accessory. As you might expect, there’s an awful lot of buzz-words in our business.
Words that people use because they think it gives them credibility. Like wearing a brand.
About a year ago the must-have words were ‘robust’ and ‘iteration’. No presentation was complete without ‘robust data’ and the ‘current iteration’ of the campaign.
Currently the must-have words are ‘granular’ and ‘heueristics’. No presentation today is complete without ‘granular data’ and a need for ‘new heuristic processes’. Does it work, is there a point?
Well we are in the presentation business after all. Maybe this language is our packaging, our added-value. Maybe clients are impressed. If the thinking isn’t up to much, the least we can do is dress it up.
If we said to a client, ‘We’re taking a more granular approach to our heueristics, to give us a more robust iteration of the previous data.” A client might think that sounds like we’re really good at our job.
Whereas if we said, “We’re looking more carefully at the numbers so we can make better decisions.” They’d probably say, well duh.