I was reading an article in a magazine the other day about the power of words to elicit imagery.
It depends on how the words are charged, what meaning we give them according to our experience, assumptions, and cultural references.
A man reads to his wife who is terminally ill. He begins the novel graciously, trying to act out the subtext in the characters. "Oh no," she pleads "not like that, it's too much. I cannot bear to hear."
Instead, she asks that he stop reading the words and start inventing a new language for her. He complies, at first awkwardly, then getting drawn into the game of creating new sounds. Until he looks at her - she is smiling peacefully in a deep sleep.
Too many words are tainted by meaning that our culture and practices - especially marketing practices - have invested in them. Others have been pounded into the ground for every occasion. So much so that they have lost their meaning.
When it comes time to move a team, a group, a company to insight and to action, we are a few words short of powerful. History and the usual metaphors bind us to what was. Take for example the word empowering. Literally, it means (1) to invest with power, especially legal power or official authority and (2) to equip or supply with an ability, to enable. How empowering is that someone else needs to grant the authority? In French and Italian, the term translates as authorize.
Why are we then talking about empowered customers, employees, consumers? Would they have no power if we did not grant it to them?
What other word would you use to signal that you are taking charge? Is it the most self-fulfilling word of the future?
[sunset outside office taken with my iPhone]