Words Must Mean Something, Before they can Stand for it

Words must mean something

I found evidence of a strong desire for humanity in how we communicate in business the same night I published my conversation with Stephen Denny. In a world where everything runs on algorithms, technology is also stripping us of our identity.

Go to any restaurant and everyone – mother, father, children – is on the phone. No eye to eye contact, no conversation. Re-humanization of relationships in general will take some thinking.

The stories I heard last night are additional data points. The Consult General of Italy in Philadelphia, Pier Forlano, kicked off the conversation on the challenges and opportunities of building a career in the United States while learning to balance an Italian heart and soul with American culture.

A mix of recent graduates, Ph.D. students, tenured professors, technology executives, experts in Genetics and Epidemiology, travel agents, teachers, and researchers all contributed their stories. While it was clear that Italy was losing ground on career opportunities, especially for younger professionals, it was hands-down winning on the humanistic side.

Based on a survey of the room (21 people in attendance, so likely not of statistical significance) the biggest delta between the two cultures:

  • in the U.S. shift to action is fast once we identify something that needs fixing
  • in Italy you feel like a person, there's a sense of pace that is human

Perhaps we can broker the difference on speed by figuring out where we're going first. Thinking is a good tool for this.

Italy has the language of relationships, pleasure, and beauty. I could do without the many adverbs and adjectives, but the general idea is that concepts are more within grasp, meaning rolls off the tongue fluently.

English is very much a language of action – there's always a body attached to ideas. Measurement follows right behind it. However, in a haste to “change the world,” we're forgetting to create the impact we promised.

Words must mean something, before they can stand for it

Language drives mindset. Let's start with the words. The New York Times says many CEOs are making headlines by overpromising and underdelivering#, and the math is just not working.

WeWork is an American commercial real estate company that provides shared work spaces for technology startups, and services for other enterprises. Founded in 2010; headquarters, New York City. Yet, the CEO wanted to “elevate the world’s consciousness.” Next headline: Adam Neumann ousted as company runs low on cash. Where's the responsibility to employees and customers?

eBay Inc. is a multinational e-commerce corporation based in San Jose, California that facilitates consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer sales through its website. eBay was founded by Pierre Omidyar in 1995, and became a notable success story of the dot-com bubble. The CEO aspired to “make a bigger difference around the world.” Next headline: EBay CEO Devin Wenig steps down, says he and board were not on ‘same page.’ Impact at home matters.

Volkswagen, shortened to VW, is a German automaker founded in 1937 by the German Labour Front, a Nazi labour union, and headquartered in Wolfsburg. Speaking of climate change, “We owe it to our children to find the right answers.” You may recall (pun intended) what transpired with emissions.

Other examples of recent corporate storytelling that earns lofty valuations thanks to easy money from the article:

  • It means the main group of riders in a race, Peloton is a bike-app-exercise home system that defined itself as, “an innovation company transforming the lives of people around the world.”
  • Online storage company Dropbox's mission is to “unleash the world’s creative energy by designing a more enlightened way of working.”
  • Ride-sharing app Lyft says it aims to “improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation.”
  • Rival Uber claims to “ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.”
  • Audio streaming platform Spotify says it aims to “unlock the potential of human creativity.”
  • Snap says that its social media app will “improve the way people live and communicate.”

Shareholder value prominence is a familiar narrative. There's a guide for journalist who report on corporate governance# that re-enforces the myth of just how important shareholders are.

Honest leaders who walk the talk, provide raw communication to employees and they in turn to customers, that's how we improve the state of world. Moral obligation shows up in the consequences of action or inaction.

The words are not working. That's how we get to honest math.


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