Sunday, September 23, 2007

Call it what it is!

Are you as sick of business euphemisms that hide the facts or over simplify issues as I am? The current practice of calling problems challenges drives me nuts.

The thinking is (I think) that by calling obstacles challenges you energize your people to “meet the challenge”. I think this practice trivializes the complexities of your business and reduces your peoples sense of accomplishment.

We all “know” what words mean, even when we might not remember the exact dictionary definition. When we hear words misused we do recognize the misuse even if we can’t clearly say why that particular statement is wrong. There is an old Confusion saying “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a tiger have?” The correct answer is “Four, calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one”.

It might be useful to look at the Webster’s definition of both problem and challenge.

Challenge (From Webster’s)
1 : to demand as due or deserved : REQUIRE
2 : to order to halt and prove identity
3 : to dispute especially as being unjust, invalid, or outmoded : IMPUGN
4 : to question formally the legality or legal qualifications of
5 a : to confront or defy boldly : DARE b : to call out to duel or combat c : to invite into competition
6 : to arouse or stimulate especially by presenting with difficulties
7 : to administer a physiological and especially an immunologic challenge to (an organism or cell)

Problem (From Webster’s)
1 a : a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution b : a proposition in mathematics or physics stating something to be done
2 a : an intricate unsettled question b : a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation c : difficulty in understanding or accepting

Challenge has 7 accepted definitions and only the sixth deals with removing difficulties while the first definition of a problem includes the idea of a solution to a difficulty. Since we all know the generally accepted meaning of words, using the correct word to describe business events is critical to a common understanding and in creating a common purpose.

By styling something as a challenge and not as a problem, you loose your teams ability to overcome that problem. Remember, you can’t overcome a challenge BUT you can challenge your team to solve a problem.

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