The accelerating power of words…
and how to benefit from them when innovating
“The words we say, will teach…” -Unknown
Whether your company is innovative with its products, its technology or its sales strategies, remember that real innovation must always be accompanied by an equally innovative choice of words. Words and language in general carry an enormous emotional load along with the raw information they bear. They reflect our mental models, the ways we understand our world. Each time they are used, pre-existing words invoke their original context, connecting the user in a sense to the emotions felt at the point of their creation. While able to restore a connection to a familiar context however, pre-existing words also remain fully trapped within the claws of the past and as a result can actually serve to delay the implementation of an innovation.
Do you think for example – since we’re talking about choices of words and hidden messages anyway – that a conversation about unemployment rates and numbers of vacancies will result in a growth of new job opportunities? Words like “employee” and “fellow worker”, frequently used to describe the present economic situation, carry the message that work can be “consumed” and that there is somebody else responsible and accountable for work being available. The idea that work also can be “produced” is notably absent from this description. The words “employee” and “fellow worker” assume that work should be available before you can “do” it.
The discovery and use of the word employeneur, used to refer to an employed entrepreneur, reflects a huge mental innovation and an interesting new perspective on the world. This kind of hidden message is, as a rule, very easily recognizable . Another example of a successful innovative word which accompanied a mental innovation was the word “Hippie”, providing, among other things, a sense of identity to a whole generation of youths in the late 60s.
Now let’s take a step towards social business. New words like “security leak”, “identity fraud”, “phishing” or “spam”, until very recently entirely unfamiliar, both in terms of language and content, to most people, have now become so widely adopted that they could now be classified as a mental category; you feel, for instance, a very particular sensation when someone talks about “spam”. They reflect a successful innovation and have found their own Sitz im Leben.
Words like “cloud”, “crowdfunding”, “crowdsourcing”, “social media”, “tweet”, “supertemp” &c. are all well on their way to becoming mental categories in their own right and can also boast changes to our mental geography and mechanisms for understanding the world: in many ways, the technological innovation that brought them to life can rightly claim to be nested within our social DNA. Do not underestimate the power of words as accelerators of both technological innovation and progress! What’s referred to as ‘crowdfunding’ now I described as ‘moneyskype in 2005. Of course, the word ‘crowdfunding’ is an excellent choice for what is being described and this itself contributes to its success!!
As a rule of thumb for innovators: use new words to describe new things.
New words have their own power and their own internal dynamics, which can have a strong accelerating effect in achieving new goals. Mental innovation is a necessary precondition for the acceptance of any technological advancement: if there is not a social or psychological need for something, then that something will simply fail to be accepted. Every successful invention requires us to change our vision of the world and its processes, and in doing this words can be the mightiest of tools.
On a more simple level, marketers have known this for ages: every new product requires a new name and a new slogan. However, this process should also be applied when coming up with an invention in the first place: if you do what you have always done, then you will always get what you have always received!
I anticipate that in 5 years time “supertemp” and “employeneur” will have become common everyday expressions. Let’s wait and see!