Words that reframe

By Michael Schrage via blogs.hbr.org   Article

Good Leaders Don’t Use Bad Words

“Instead of brainstorming new ‘products,’ the group instead collectively chose to imagine future ‘offers.’ The word forced a different discipline of design thinking. ‘Offers’ usefully blurred categorical and cultural distinctions between ‘product’ and ‘service’ innovation. Making an ‘offer’ looked and felt different than selling a ‘product.’ The more people talked, the clearer it became: ‘offers’ was simply a better word and organizing principle for generating more innovative innovation scenarios. ‘Offers’ liberated participants, where ‘products’ constrained them.

Language matters. A lot. Amazon, for example, lists over 3000 publications about ‘product innovation’ and roughly 800 for ‘service innovation.’ According to its search engine, however, the world’s largest bookseller doesn’t have a single ‘offers innovation’ title. Is that an opportunity? …

IBM began emphasizing ‘clients’ over ‘customers.’ … ‘relentlessly stressed that ‘customers’ were about managing transactions but ‘clients’ were about investing in relationships. IBM needed to redesign itself around serving clients, not selling customers. That was a distinction with an operational and organizational difference. … IBM soon stopped using ‘committee’ in favor of ‘team’ — another word-swap that ultimately had meaningful managerial impact.

Changing important words helped change important behaviors.”


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