Sunday, April 12, 2015

Buzzword Backlash

Perhaps the only thing more tired than business buzzwords is the backlash against business buzzwords.

Maybe it's the circles I run in, but it seems that barely a week goes by without at least someone I know sharing an article about buzzwords that are overused, buzzwords I should stop using or buzzwords I should avoid immediately. The teasers all sound very knowing and very ominous. Typical are headlines like, "Most Annoying Buzzwords", "Buzzwords Gone Bad, and "Office Jargon: Six Tired Buzzwords to Avoid". Inevitably I'll click the link and find - much to my dismay - a bunch of words, phrases, and sayings that I either use myself, or find pretty much innocuous.

Heck, I'll go one step further. Most of the buzzwords people spend their time decrying are actually useful; useful in that they do what good language is supposed to do; they convey the desired meaning in a manner that's both economical and easy to understand. Further, they almost always strike me (cliched or not) as more interesting than any "plain language" alternative that's offered.

Take "wheelhouse" for example. In this article offering 30 Business Buzzwords You Should Stop Using, the author suggests that the term has been "around a long time and has become a bit of a cliche". Sure. Fine. It's a cliche. Still, if I'm sitting in a meeting and I have the choice between hearing someone say, "That's right in her wheelhouse" or "That's an assignment that matches her strengths. I expect she can handle it easily", I'll choose the former over the latter every day.

The same thing applies to the much-maligned term "scalable". Would you rather hear someone ask "Is it scalable?" or ask instead "Is it the case that this process can handle a growing amount of work in a capable manner?" Given those alternatives, I'm pretty OK with scalable.

Even when the brevity and clarity of buzzwords can be equaled, the results are often inferior. One article suggested dropping "ducks in a row" (as in, "We need to get our ducks in a row.") for "make a plan" (as in "We need to make a plan."). Unless one favors the embarrassingly prosaic, I don't see how this is an improvement. Is the expectation that the language we adopt be wholly literal? Are we to abandon metaphors, analogies, and figures of speech altogether?  Who on earth would wish for that?

Maybe that's what rankles me the most about buzzword backlash. When it comes to language I'm very much in the "language is a living and growing thing" camp. As such, I resist the admonitions of those who would prescribe when, how and what we should say. It's a form of cultural elitism that I've never been comfortable with.

If you want to teach people how to use language effectively, have at it. If you've got ideas for how to improve communication or increase its effectiveness, I'm all ears. If, on the other hand, you just want to tell people what words you think they should or shouldn't use, well, good luck with that. You'll never convince me it's a good idea, and frankly, you'd have better luck trying to boil the ocean.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Moveable Type: Igloo Letterpress Plans Move and Expansion

There's a temptation to simply think of Igloo Letterpress as "the little shop that could"; the plucky, niche printing upstart swimming against the tide of digital image processing and online print orders. I suppose in a way they are that, what with their homespun origins and old-timey printing ways. The problem is, that narrative glosses over a set of pretty solid business fundamentals that have lead to both an impressive client list and expansion plans.

Igloo loves Ohio!

Not to get all MBA here, but businesses don't succeed and grow because they're cute. Businesses succeed and grow because they meet a need and do top-quality work. They succeed because they build authentic relationships; the kind of relationships that foster goodwill and ensure enthusiastic word of mouth marketing. They succeed because they provide value for their customers and their community. By these measures, "the little shop that could" has been putting on a clinic since re-locating from Minnesota to the central Ohio in 2008.

Igloo has a library! Books include "Books Without Paste or Glue" and "How to Fold"

As evidence of their success, Igloo will be moving from the cozy (cramped?) confines of 39 West New England in Worthington to a space that's four times larger and includes a High Street store front. The expansion will provide space for retail shopping and a visitor experience unlike any other. To strengthen their connection to the community, Igloo has launched a Kickstarter campaign in conjunction with the move. A successful campaign will give Igloo the chance to offer expanded community classes and take on additional public projects.

 One of Igloo's presses in action

I had the chance to go behind the scenes recently at Igloo, and can attest to all of the above. This is a business the that does top quality work, cares about its customers, and adds value to the community. The fact that they're plucky upstarts doing some serious niche work is just icing on the cake.

2T 4EVA!

Details on Igloo's Kickstarter campaign can be found here, Move Our Igloo. If you think central Ohio needs more of this, then back them any way you can. And if you can't make a financial commitment then feel free to tweet, retweet and share the hashtag #moveourigloo Every little bit helps.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Columbus Street Art, I'm Calling You Out

This has gone on long enough.


Listen, I'm no expert on street art, and I'm not usually one to call out deficiencies in the central Ohio arts scene, but enough is enough. If Columbus intends to establish itself as a world-class city capable of supporting and advancing the visual arts, we really need to step up our game when it comes to street art, murals, and graffiti, because we clearly aren't world-class in this area yet.

Yes, I know we can all point to any number of individual successes, "What about the Short North murals? What about the Mini-Murals? What about Aminah Robinson? What about Urban Scrawl? Jeff Abraxes? Vinchen? Those count for something, don't they?" I suppose they do at some level, but I can't be the only one who browses sites like Unurth and StreetArtUtopia and sees a noticeable gap in quality between what's produced locally and what's happening further afield.

Part2ism, Opium Wars, London

And really, beyond those efforts listed above, who are the locals creating graffiti or street art that's of visual, emotional or intellectual interest? (Note: This is not a rhetorical question. If you know of someone, please school me now! Stephanie Rond and John Stommel are the only ones I can think of, and I believe John left town, taking his considerable talents with him). Is the problem documentation? Maybe great work is being done and I'm just not seeing it. I've maintained all along that someone invested in the local street art scene ought to start a blog and do the hard work of documentation.

Vinchen, Highly Desirable Luxury Object Retailer, Columbus

Maybe the issue is an inadequate support system. What systems do we have in place to develop really great street art? Where are public/private partnerships? What funding is available? What are the schools doing? Does CCAD still support it's Campus Mural Program? Could they expand it? What about Ohio State or Campus Partners? What about the GCAC, the OAC or the Cultural Arts Center? Does anyone even teach street art classes? Why not?

Jon Stommel, River Recreation Mural, Vancouver BC

I know the Short North is taking steps to encourage street art, and so is the Franklinton Arts District. A few years ago I highlighted some of my neighborhood's street art in an article for Columbus Underground (Counter Offensive: Street Art Gains Ground in Old North Columbus). While those initiatives were worth documenting, they were, by and large, modest efforts of an individual nature. Nothing noted in that piece was indicative of either systemic support or a larger cultural investment. Individuals saw a need to create and acted accordingly. That's great as far as it goes, but imagine how much more we could do if there were a coordinated effort to increase the quality, visibility and ricnhess of street art in Columbus.