There’s an old story about the pessimist father who wanted to teach his optimist son a lesson. The only thing the kid wanted for his birthday was a pony. So on his birthday, when the kid was away at school, his dad called the local feed store and had his son’s bedroom filled from floor-to-ceiling with manure. When the kid got home his dad told him that his present was in his room. The kid could already smell the manure and squealed, “Oh goodie, you got me a pony!” as he ran towards his room.
A moment later the kid went streaking by in the opposite direction. He dashed into the garage, grabbed a shovel, and came running back towards his bedroom.
“Whoa there. Where you going with that shovel, son?” the father asked.
“With all that crap in my room,” the boy answered as he ran past, “there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere.”
I was reminded of that joke the other day when my friend David sent me his notes from a Silicon Valley investors’ conference. As he put it, “these words actually came out of human mouths.”
“We’re swimming in the social stream.”
“Crowdsourcing app discovery-platform.”
“Can you talk about getting conceptual liftoff?”
“Now let’s talk about disrupting the disruptors.”
“We’re iterating our butts off, dude.”
“Looks like it’s searching for a use case.”
“We’re all about glocal right now.”
“Collaborative consumption is truly a revolution.”
“Plat-Ag.” (As in “Platform-Agnostic.”)
“You did one of the great pivots of all time.”
“We don’t measure our success by financial results.”
Can you believe all this jargony hogwash? And this from our best and brightest, the IT geniuses who are busy creating the companies and opportunities that will energize the economy and produce tomorrow’s millionaires and billionaires.
Jargon has always served to separate the in-crowd from everyone else. By using specialized insider language, people signal their inclusion in some groups and their exclusion from others.
Our presidential election has been full of that sort of thing. Politicians and pundits use “code words” to let their base know they’re talking to them when the messages they want to convey are less than politic. And sometimes a simple bit of ethnic slang, such as the president’s use of “Nah, we straight” (at :29 of this LINK) can effectively signal to certain groups that the speaker is “one of them.”
But such conversational gymnastics can also backfire. Bill Clinton’s “I’m fixin’ to tell you,” was a folksy, Southern expression that spoke intimately to some but ran the risk of alienating more urbane voters. And while Paul Ryan’s exaltations of Ayn Rand’s writings signaled Tea Party conservatives that he was closely aligned with their economic beliefs, it also frightened religious conservatives who knew that Rand was an avowed atheist and lifelong supporter of abortion rights.
People make decisions based on their emotions and justify those decisions with the facts. So it’s often not what you say but how you say it that has the most emotional affect. It’s what chapter two of our most recent book, Building Brand Value, was all about. The concept of Hearts Then Minds reminds you to appeal to your customers’ emotions before you appeal to their intellect. And properly used, jargon and insider language can do that because they talk directly to the heart.
But remember that when it gets too deep, there might not be a pony under all that manure after all.