Friday, January 15, 2010

What's In A Word?

I was having lunch the other day with an area sales manager who represents some cutting edge technology. For a change, I could actually understand what this company was trying to accomplish rather than have someone with a pocket protector unsuccessfully try to explain the simplicity of an idea in the most complex fashion. My youngest son, a senior at Georgia Tech, has the same communication challenge with me. What he can see in his head, I can't see with big print and a magnifying glass.

Facebook, Inc.Image via Wikipedia

At lunch, my new friend and I were laughing about the complexity of communication. How industries have created new buzzwords to make the tried and true sound fresh and revolutionary. Marcom materials is a descriptor I often see in job descriptions. Apparently, marketing and communication materials takes too many keystrokes, and someone reduced the phrase to "Marcom". It caught on.

My lunch buddy and I agreed that with all the new ways to communicate, most of us still fail to get our message across. Some hide behind voicemail, calling at lunchtime or after hours so we know we won't actually talk to a human being. Some hide behind email, triggering a string of messages that never get the issue resolved. Others, mostly big business, seem to think they won't suffer when they hide behind voicemail. Few ever return calls. We all seem to want the latest iPhone or Android device so we can communicate better, but most just read a message and go back to whatever they were doing. You'll notice Apple never advertises the iPhone as a conversation tool; but rather all the neat things you can do with it. Android talks about different ways of being connected, not about call quality. Having a conversation, apparently, isn't a high priority with a mobile phone.

Years ago, someone came up with the notion of "it's a McDonald's world.” Meaning, essentially, we all want an instant payoff. That's why scratch off lottery tickets sell better than the ones you have to wait for a few days to confirm you threw away your $5. We won't wait in line inside a restaurant, but we will wait in line at the drive through. Ironically, it appears we'd rather take 10 minutes to write a text and wait for a reply than to actually speak to someone. So much for instant payoff.

Another popular word comes from the tried and true concept of "who you know." Most jobs are found by a contact of someone you know. Today, we call that "networking.” I see people spending hours every day building their "network" on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Apparently, if you achieve a certain number of contacts you earn bragging rights. People I've never met ask to be my friend. And honestly, do you really think I'm going to reach out to a third level connection or fellow group member on LinkedIn and ask for an introduction to someone he or she probably doesn't even know? Or that the introduction will actually do some good? I know Kevin Bacon and I have six levels of separation; but I don't think he’ll take my phone call. He might, however, send me to voicemail.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

Still, with the way we've managed to isolate ourselves amidst all of our ways to connect with one another, networking is the only way many know how to connect. And that's a scary thought, because I was recently reminded the difference between "not working" and "networking" is one letter.

Vanna, I'd like to buy a vowel.

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