Change the words – keep the message

It is 7 months since the Change Academy team started these blogs, in which time we have have covered a lot of ground. There is a tendency in change initiatives to get trapped in a web of  jargon – using a lot of buzz-words without understanding the message.

So, to informally test this out lets have a look at a wordle created from my blogs of the past few months:

 John Macdonald (1998) talks of a mischievous attempt by engineers at Honeywell bust the jargon culture. Their ‘buzzword generator’ included three columns of words, where a choice of one from each column generated plausible (but nonsensical) buzzwords, such as’ parallel synchronised timephase’ or ‘compatible policy projection’ to throw into discussions with colleagues.

To put a positive slant on his idea, lets play a similar sort of same game in reverse, using phrases suggested by this Wordle, and instead look to get some value from the message:

‘People need change’ – we are adaptive creatures and getting stuck in a rut appears to lead us to boredom (at least in work). Boredom reduces creativity and improvement; the rut deepens. On the other hand change (though perhaps stressful) energises people; new ways of working get noticed and new behaviours rub off.

‘Theory changes behaviour’ – theory is often presented as the opposite to ‘being practical’, but actually this is not the case. Theory shapes thinking and your thinking shapes your behaviour, so useful theory should change behaviour in useful ways.

‘Things values see (better)’ – if we define our values (rather than relying on what we assume to be values), we open up new conversations that begin to challenge what happens round us.  We start to see dis-functional working relationships and inappropriate practice and this allows us to raise questions and make challenges on things that previously never hit the radar. Our organisation becomes more alert and ‘alive’ to new things.

‘Work suggests approach’ – people who do the work know the work, warts and all. Their knowledge should be used to identify and implement improvements. Often change initiatives involve implementing great new ideas or benchmarks from other organisations which fail to work in the context of our own organisation. Don’t impose outside solutions until you know what is actually happening to the work on the ground and why it occurs. Only then are you going to get on the correct route to improvement.

Although this is just a bit of fun, change can be a serious business – always remember to keep your mind open and your feet on the ground.


Read more here:

MacDonald, J. (1998) Calling a Halt to Mindless Change, Amacom, UK

Some preview material is available on:




4 thoughts on “Change the words – keep the message”

  1. Thanks, Simon. I agree that language is critical and jargon can be unhelpful. I spoke to a small business owner the other day and used the term ‘line’ manager – a term I (and undoubtedly others) have used for years. He expressed real difficulty with the term ‘line’ – Which made him imagine rows of workers in a production line all obediently carrying out their daily existing tasks with no opportunity to demondtrate creativity or innovation while working under the direction of the person up the ‘line.’ What a vivid image – and I could see his point immediately. Why are we still using terminology likely created during the industrial revolution to describe 21st C working practices, particularly in a climate of change and instability when we need the power of everyone’s mind to address challenges we face? I for one have since resolved to be more consious of my language.

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