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The Death of Words

April 3, 2007

I have been going through some case studies. I’m looking at how you identify the insights they contain, what sorts of insights there are in the world, how you share them and how you apply them. You know – just a casual side project.  !

In writing some notes I found myself using the word “secenario”. It was actually a useful and appropriate word to apply – in the context. My thought was that a plain English description of the scenario in which the insight was applicable, or a deeper analysis of the types of scenario in which it did/didn’t help, or a simple list of relevant scenarios, were really good ways of making the insight accessible.

“Scenario” was an economical and efficient word to use.

But I hesitated for a long time over it, and I know why. It felt like an old, used up, hollowed out buzz-word (‘scenario modelling’, ‘scenario planning’ etc). As such it was full of negative and outdated connotations. Again I know why – first, it’s one of those things that enjoyed a vogue amongst management consultants for a spell – and therefore I’m reacting against a time when you couldn’t move for scenarios. Second, there was the inevitable second wave where people cottoned on to the word being convincing and popular, but never even had a nodding acquaintance with the concepts behind it. The more popular the word, the more likely it is to be seized upon and have cheap plastic knock-off copies peddled by the million.

So looking at this dirty dusty ‘scenario’ word at the back of my mental cupboard, in a colour and a material that was fashionable in another time, I was tempted to throw it in the bin. Instead, I don’t know why, I cleaned it up, fixed it a bit, and started using it with pride. Another happy tale of re-cycling.

So the danger is that the concept dies because the word has been mis-used and flogged to death by people who acquired the word without the real concept (without the insight – sorry if that’s a bit self-referential). So next time we recognise an old buzz phrase, or even better an old concept being paraded under a new name, perhaps instead of being cynical we should be grateful that someone has found a way of respectably re-cycling it.

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