We all know how powerful the specific use of language is on communication. For example, $millions are spent finding that perfect phrase to be the tagline for our business, contracts are bitterly disputed over the difference between “best efforts” and “reasonably best efforts”, and team members are either motivated or demotivated with the twist of a phrase such as “good job” vs. “nice try.”
Here are three simple language changes that can have a positive affect on buildng a development culture to drive innovative thinking, deliver better products, and just make life easier.
- “Listen to customers” instead of “Talk to customers” - I’m always happy when teams want to engage customers, but sometimes “talk to customers” takes a literal meaning with most of the time and energy going into actually ”talking” to customers with very little real “listening.” We are always “talking” to customers – in sales meetings, during presentations, on our websites, etc. What we often mean, particularly during product development, is that we want to “listen” to more customers. ”That’s just semantics!” you might be thinking. But active listening is difficult and takes practice. A simple language change can drive home the need to actually hear what customers are saying.
- “How might we?” instead of “We can’t” - Want to innovate? This change is a must. Solving the tough problems that create real value for customers requires risk-taking, creativity, and just plain horsepower. Given our tight schedules, resource constraints, etc. etc., it’s easy to have a first reaction of “We can’t do that!” to any difficult challenge. However, if it’s important to the success of the product, innovative leaders know that changing “We can’t… ” to “How might we..” is a critical start to finding solutions. As chronicled in Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, Steve had to motivate Corning to restart manufacturing a special “Gorilla Glass” to meet iPhone needs. Their CEO Wendell Weeks, said to the affect, “We can’t do that.” That didn’t stop Steve from motivating him to think “How might we…” that lead to having Gorilla Glass on every iPhone.
- Anything other than “Market Requirement” – The term “requirement” should possibly be banned from product development altogether. It is such a fuzzy term that whole movements have been spawned in an attempt to change the language to “user stories”, “use cases”, “jobs”, etc. If your company still uses the phrase “market requirement”, I recommend at a minimum putting a different adjective in front of “requirement” to clarify the meaning. If you hear “We need to write market requirements”, try responding, “Great! Did you mean customer requirements? Business requirements? Product requirements? Or what exactly did you mean by “market requirements”. And then go further to define these terms.
Try making these three changes and see how your culture improves.
What language would you like to change in product development?