Shameless plug for my previous post: The Silence of the Lambs

Dear reader,

a couple of days ago I got into what seemed like a regular business meeting: two of my colleagues needed more info about a web application, in use inside the company, which was undergoing a re-engineering. To put the question in an extremely simplified form: “What is this program doing? Which are the processes of the company impacted?”.

My answer was as straightforward as the question, and I was happy because I knew the subject first-hand, thus being able to give plenty of information. But…

…but something was not going well. I noticed the growing sense of disorientation in the faces of the other people. More and more questions were erupting, and I got the feeling that we were going further and further away from the main topic. At least, from what I thought was the main topic. Now, since I was talking to two intelligent and caring persons, I knew there has to be something deeper going on than a simple misunderstanding. We went through many aspects of the matter, and I was trying harder to keep things at the most basic – I’d say pedantic – level, to avoid unnecessary confoundings.

At last, I got it: it was all a problem of naming! The program in question is affected from birth by a severe ailment: its name sounds way loftier than what it represents! The name hints at very high-end management and business capabilities when in reality the “hinted vs. real” ratio is the same as “Microsoft Office vs. scientific calculator”. Sure, a scientific calculator is useful, but nowhere like a full-fledged office managing suite. I decided I needed to do something to remove the ambiguity from the discussion entirely and to wash out from our brains any suggestion at higher purposes for the app.

So, I said “Let’s stop calling this thing by its name. Let’s call it Anthony and forget about what you think it does.” (Actually, it was “Antonio”, since I’m a native spaghetti eater).

From now on it was all downhill: it was like a fresh start. Everybody understood that there were some preconceived thoughts to get rid of and our minds were more eager to look at the matter as if it was the first time. The meeting was over in ten minutes. Anthony has been dissected, analysed, digested.

Bottom line: names and words ar powerful. The biases of our minds are powerful. The way we frame something can be powerful. Never forget to keep this in mind, be it for others or yourself.

Until next time, greet Anthony on my behalf.