Is language & jargon a barrier to innovation?

“If you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” – Albert Einstein

I remember as a student in my first year of uni being told that my degree would prepare me to be the bridge between IT and business. At the time I didn’t understand why this would be needed. But it did sound very exciting.

These days my role is to elicit, discover and invent requirements for both large scale European projects and small knowledge transfer projects. Put very simply, I’m the person who figures out what new systems that involve both humans and technology should do. I’m the link in the chain of developing new systems that works to understand the needs of the people in the system and communicates this to those who will build the technology part of the system.

This takes me into a variety of domains, from dementia care to food chains, which I need to become familiar with over a relatively short amount of time in order to discover requirements, redesign work and social processes, then help to invent new ways for technology to support these. In each domain the biggest learning curve is getting to grips with the language shared by the professionals in that domain.

This learning curve can be a barrier to collaboration and creativity between professionals from different domains. We are so used to thinking that using big words and jargon makes us look clever, like we know what we’re talking about. Some even use jargon as a way of excluding those not in the know from understanding the conversation, but more often than not it is just a habit. One we need to get out of when we come together to work creatively.

Teams made up of people from many different areas of an organisation can be a fantastic resource for identifying and creating opportunities, though only if they can communicate their ideas on a level that is understood by everyone in the room. In the book, “The Knowing-Doing Gap: How smart companies turn knowledge into action”, Robert Sutton and Jeffrey Pfeffer argue that “Simple talk is valuable because it is more likely to lead to action. It is less possible to second guess or dispute simple, direct ideas. One may disagree with a simple idea or a simple philosophy, but that is transparent at the outset. Second guessing and finger pointing are largely precluded when the organisation operates on the basis of simple, straightforward ideas and language.” They’ve got a point, don’t you think?

I spend a fair amount of my time in projects acting as a translator. I have to wonder how much further we could get if we all just used simple talk?