Leora has an anthropological ear for language and especially for its abuses. I believe she’s been playing "buzz word bingo" in her head for many years, well before the invention of the game in the 1990s.
I was rooting her on, until it occurred to me that her criticism applied to me. The first time I met Virginia Postrel, I used the term to describe what I did. Virginia asked me to explain. This surprised me. For my purposes, the term was self sufficient. Her question implied, politely, that there had to be more to say, and if there was not, I had used it too liberally. Oh.
In his comment on Leora’s post, Steve Postrel, reveals what Virginia might have done to complete my embarrassment.
Just for laughs, when someone claims to be a strategist, you could ask them which tradition of strategy they represent. Economic? Then ask them to define a Nash equilibrium and see how they feel about Cournot vs. Bertrand models. Military? Then ask them about Clausewitz or John Boyd or Edward Luttwak. You can do the same thing with sports, chess, marketing, or any other domain they claim that has a tradition of strategic analysis.
Thank you, Virginia, for your constraint.
The question is what did I think I was doing? (Apart from being a bumptious prat, that is. I am always a bumptious prat, so the designation is not acutely useful here.) What I think I was doing was telling Virginia that I was not merely working as a marketer or a marketing researcher. I was trying to say that I was not just collecting data but actually thinking about what I did.
And then the question is, why should this rhetorical misbehavior be necessary? I am quite sure that other professionals do not suffer the temptation. Lawyers, doctors, civil servants…they don’t use the term. ("What kind of medicine do I practice? Oh, I do strategic medicine, you see. I don’t just identify symptoms. I think about them.")
No, the buzz word abuse that Leora spotted is a symptom. The field of marketing and the fact that it is not in fact a profession at all. I guess we could say that the MBA is a professional credential, but some of us agree that when it comes to cultural aspects of markets and consumers, an MBA is not much good at all. Having an MBA says only that the player could manage to complete a program and not much more.
Without sorting, we are reduced to making boosterish, self aggrandizing claims, dressing ourselves up in the dignity of someone else’s language.
It’s not clear how we solve this problem. I agree with Steve that certification (or credentialism, as he calls it) is probably impractical. Reputation helps of course. It would help even more if those of us in branding circles had the depths of knowledge that distinguish the McKinsey consultant.
I wonder when clients will begin to ask whether a would-be supplier is an active member of the blogging community (as a poster or a commentator). This is I think a pretty good way of separating sheep from goats. After all, it’s very difficult to sustain a presence in the blogosphere if you don’t have intellectual and creative resources at your disposal. (Or it pretty easy to tell when you are just faking it.)
Out of naturally emergent communities, I think we have the foundations of a college, groups of people who have enough in common to sustain debate and enough divergence to engender it. And this eventually becomes a kind of certification. I had the good fortune to have a conversation with Sebastian Wendland in Berlin, and I believe we figured that a college on line could be largely self organizing and that it would, as a by-product, serve several sorting functions.
Kornfeld, Leora. 2007. Buzz word watch. This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. April 6, 2007. here.
Postrel, Steve. 2007. Comment on Buzz word watch. This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. April 6, 2007. here.
[We need some way to create permalinks for comments. Or am I missing something?]
Those who are following my travels, I have finished my week in Brussels, (which proved to be unexpectedly beautiful). And before leaving Brussels, I had the distinct pleasure of watch Cambridge beat Oxford and the Hanshin Tigers beat the Tokyo Giants. (This could be the year for the Tigers!) Paris is stunning, and I was left to wonder why you can’t remember how stunning it is from trip to trip. Some things, sublime things, can’t be kept in memory. (It’s a technical information processing issue, I think.) On the other hand, it is also looking a little over-the-top, everything cleaned and regilded. As if Paris really gives at all what tourists think. (The moment France cares what a tourist thinks that will be the end of civilisation as they know it here.) But the big news is that I have befriended a house plant that came in on my room service tray last night, and while I understand that this is the sort of thing prisoners do (well, without the crystal pot and the French carpentry, of course), it is nice to have a friend on the road. She is now taking the sun on the table, as pictured. (If anyone knows how often I should water her, and what language she speaks, I would be grateful for these details.) I am calling her Melanie, that is, until she tells me her real name. (I know this is where Tom gets out the DSM handbook, but really, I’m fine.)