Apropos to Monday’s post on Jargon vs. Lingo, a link came across my social media feed yesterday featuring an interview with Anand Giridharadas by Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at the University College of London on the topic of philanthropy .
There is a moment right around the 23:00 mark where Giridharadas refers to a situation where the “…manspreading of certain languages which render native speakers in various institutions illiterate.”
Basically what he says happens is that advisors or consultants come in and start challenging practices, wielding terms like “leveraging synergies” and “boiling the ocean” to make it seem like the shorthand language you use internally to accomplish things is not sufficient to achieve success. Giridharadas says this allows people to come in from outside and make people feel inadequate in their familiar home environment. It shifts the power dynamic by establishing their expertise while positioning natives as no longer credible.
He points out that people who have achieved relatively high levels of success in industries like education, arts and aviation don’t tend to decide this expertise can be applied to other industries, but people in the commercial business world will feel they are qualified to direct the efforts in other realms. Giridharadas specifically mentions charities, non-profits and the arts as industries often feel their commercial skillsets will transfer to.
Now none of this is to say that non-profits and the arts don’t have issues like insularity and diversity, equity and inclusion, among others that need to be fixed. But with some exceptions, the solution to these problems can be achieved with plain speech and the native jargon of the organization without the necessity of introducing buzzwords.
Mazzucato also made an interesting point about the commercial world employing a paradigm adopted from a now outdated physics worldview. She says economics finds it convenient to employ Newtonian view of equilibrium to justify a laissez-faire policy–the idea governments shouldn’t interfere because the system will self-correct. However, she notes that physics has moved on to the quantum physics model where there are higher degrees of uncertainty and randomness. These are factors probably a more appropriate paradigm for economics since individuals, social structures and behaviors do not easily conform to the predictability of an equal and opposite reaction.
To be clear, she is not saying economics should look to the quantum model to figure everything out. She just makes the point that scientific models have shifted as observations about the world have been tested and economics seemed to glom on to a convenient metaphor/model that conformed to a desired outcome.