In SCI BC News

As I launch this new blog, I feel that I’d better start with a confession: I’m not a blog fanatic and, in truth, I don’t spend that much time reading blogs. I’ve never been a blogger.

There are, however, a few blogs I do enjoy and do my best to read regularly. One of those is Dan Pallotta’s Harvard Business Review Blog. Dan provides a strong and passionate voice for changing the way non-profits are regulated, operated and evaluated. I share a great many of the views he expresses on how the restraint on nonprofits undermine their potential (also part of the title of his excellent book, Uncharitable). I draw inspiration and information from his blogs.

And, it is in the December 5th installment of his blog that I drew the inspiration for this, my inaugural blog. I Don’t Understand what Anyone is Saying Anymore. That’s the title of his blog entry, and increasingly, I don’t understand what people are saying either.

To be fair, I’m not referring to everyone. I usually get what my family and friends are saying – they’re pretty good about being honest and direct. They usually understand what they are talking about or admit when they don’t. They use plain, sometimes colourful, language. That generally goes for the staff and members of SCI-BC too.

Who then? Government, funders, business are prime breeding grounds for obtuse dialogue. It’s not hard to understand why. The demands of trying to do more with less has rapidly led to the need for new ideas on how to do business, how to evaluate progress and impact, and how to establish and monitor accountable practices (another overused and increasingly meaningless phrase). There are no easy solutions to the many challenges societies face these days, but for purposes such as job security people become “innovative” (see below) with their use of language to obscure the fact that they don’t have the solution – or that they don’t really understand what the challenge is.

The problem usually arises when people aren’t quite sure what they are trying to convey – when they don’t fully understand the nature of a problem or what a solution might be – and when they aren’t willing to admit to their befuddlement. In these situations, people tend to use big words and trite expressions. They insert a mélange of meaningless buzz words into ever increasing run-on sentences. What could be summarized in a two-page report becomes a 100-page tome infected by circular arguments and meaningless rhetoric. In other words, they tend to use way more words than necessary.

There are innumerable examples of meaningless language used these days by those not quite sure what they are talking about. Dan highlights a few: “thinking outside the box,” “value-add,” “low hanging fruit,” “paradigm shift.” A few of my pet peeves include: “innovative solutions,” “best practice,” “taking it to the next level,” “contagion.” In one place I worked, the use of the term “innovation” became so overused that it no longer had meaning. So, I tried to ban its use for all but its most literal applications. My campaign failed. It seemed the leadership didn’t understand what I was talking about.

In this blog and in all we communicate at SCI-BC, we will aim to be clear and concise. We’ll try to use meaningful language. We’ll try not to resort to the catch phrases of the day, and we’ll try to tell you something meaningful. From time to time, we’ll also try to have a little fun.

In his blog Dan states: “When I was younger, if I didn’t understand what people were saying, I thought I was stupid. Now I realize that if it’s to people’s benefit that I understand them but I don’t, then they’re the ones who are stupid.” I hope through the writings in this blog you’ll be able to understand me.

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