Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My own medicine

This morning's post comes from the "Do As I Say, Not As I Do" Desk.

I wish we could tie all the acronyms in the world in a bagful of rocks and throw it in the nearest river. But when I wrote about that a few weeks ago, I granted a reprieve to generally well-known acronyms, like FBI.

Of course, the definition of "generally well-known" depends on your audience. As I was reminded by a couple of loving "ahems" from two quite intelligent friends who have been paying close attention to my recent writing. And my increasing use of the term "C-Suite."

I could argue that C-Suite is an abbreviation, not an acronym. I'd win that argument, too. But the larger point is that not everyone understands what it means. "C-Suite" encompasses all those folks with "Chief" in their titles—Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer. A business audience will understand it, but my friends have built careers outside of the corporate world. If you want to speak to a broader audience than that, you'd do well to avoid it.

I said "a business audience will understand it," but as I wrote those words I remembered that, in fact, when I first encountered the term it puzzled me. As has every piece of business jargon I've encountered in over 25 years of writing for the corporate world. The first time one of my Wall Street bosses praised a speech I'd written by saying, "You really added value here, Elaine," I had to suppress a giggle all the way back to my office. "Value" seemed a very odd way to describe creativity. But I digress.

In using the term "C-Suite" without explanation, I had fallen victim to what Chip and Dan Heath call (in their excellent book Made to Stick) the Curse of Knowledge—"the difficulty of remembering what it was like not to know something." I've built a career on not being "cursed" by too much knowledge of the business world. It's how I justified not pursuing an MBA years ago, when I write for so many people who have that degree. I figure my "value" to them is that I can recognize the difference between complex ideas and, you will pardon the expression, bullshit couched in complex language. The former I explain, the latter I call out.

Anyway, lesson learned. "C-Suite" will become, I guess, "leading executives." Excuse me, I've got to go rewrite my marketing materials now.