The power of words

I don’t know much about language or the theory behind it.

I do though remember the idea that every word is in itself an idea.

And I was thinking about the power of language and the underlying ideas that live inside words.

So I’m wondering how we can consciously make that part of our power as we change business.

What is the idea or many ideas hiding inside the word ‘business’, or ‘progressive’, or ‘profit’.

Related: I went to a socialist party meeting in Brighton to expand my narrow horizons a little (I’d like to do more of that, hit me if you have ideas).

The thing that struck me was the language: speakers and question askers repeatedly used the words ‘workers’ and ‘struggle’. The ideas in those words don’t work for me, their whole required worldview wasn’t loaded in my brain so the words never quite landed. But they had a power for the people there. Maybe that’s more of a tribal thing?

I guess this is meat and drink to politicians and propagandists. The war over words like immigrant, terrorist vs freedom fighter. The ownership of the ideas in words. BRANDING.

‘Mutual’ is a word becoming quite fashionable in the UK at the moment. Although it is aligned with the Conservative Party in my head, I really like the ideas I have about that word. Mutual. Nice.

Here’s a word I struggle with in all of this Culture Shock / social business / conscious business context: employees. Are they ‘staff’ – bit lowly? ‘Team’ doesn’t really scale, or does it? ‘Workers’ see above (ugh!). Maybe they are ‘people’ 🙂

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “The power of words

  1. I think a lot about the power of words. Here’s an extract from something I’m writing about “audiences”.

    Here’s my best advice to leaders.

    I’d start by forgetting the labels of “consumer”, “employee”, “partner”, “investor”, “donor”, and so on.

    Instead, I’d urge leaders to think about Carl, Juanita, Alexander. Sam. Ellen. Pierre.

    To think of THEIR lives, THEIR expectations and THEIR needs.

    Now, consider how what THEY need from you, is fundamentally different from what YOU want from them.

    And that, in a nutshell, is what is holding many businesses and teams back. The give and take isn’t right. A new balance needs to be struck.

    People rock.


  2. Without some form of communication, ideas are stuck within your mind. You need to communicate – usually through words – what your idea is so others can get on board. So if words are ideas too, maybe everything is ideas – like atoms, all floating around and connected in some way.

    Reminds me of something I studied at university (Communication Theory) – have you ever heard of this chap?

    Interesting provocation Will!

  3. There is such an artificial chasm between “human” and “business” even though all business is done for, by, and about humans. I struggle to find words that bring the concepts back together. Employees, staff, people, human resources all demonstrate that same false schism. We often refer to “employees and managers” yet all managers are also employees – another imaginary gap.

    Words matter tremendously.These are very important issues, yet because we don’t have adequate words to describe the concepts, debate and discussion is cumbersome and too much time must be spent defining the concepts and too little energy is left to discuss them. Which makes it all the more important to discuss.

  4. Hi Will

    I too am caught up reflecting on the use of words – I have hang ups over the word ‘process’. To me it means to dehumanise something and separate the art and the gesture of the act and turn it into a rational mechanism. Its my issue – I’ll work through it 🙂

    The meaning of words changes over time too – Im in a world where collaboration is important to me. But at a conference I attend last year – in a room full of collaboration visionaries – there was one guy who took offence. For him collaboration was ‘what the french did with germans during the war’ – its the word that was used in hundreds of episodes of ‘Allo Allo’ that we all grew up on. The guy who took offense (seeing collaboration as corrupt and unethical collusion) but he did me a favour by questioning my own language -words have to be aware of the context.

    Language can date – what is zeitgeist can become parodied. When Ricky Jervais penned the Office we all cringed at David Brent because of his language and gestures – we could all recognise that language and lived in a world that used it but Ricky made us laugh/cringe/hide behind the sofa because he captured a mindset that had past its best.

    The same thing is being done with the Thick of It programmes – the Stewart Pearson character is just as painful – spinning buzzwords that carry ideas – we all need to live in terror that we too have a bit too much Stewart Pearson inside us – planning Thought Pods and Dream Yurt sessions

    Nice move on attending the Socialist meeting – keep up the fight and together we will win Comrade!


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