June 4, 2012

Defining the Gobbledygook

Sometimes the bend of my learning curve has been more like an arrow: the amount of knowledge I have on a subject can only go up.

When I interviewed for my job at the diocese, I told them it was great that we'd have two people in communications--I could handle the writing and media relations while the other person, a techie, could oversee the computers. A decade later, due to convergence and downsizing, I oversee IT for the office. Talk about steep learning curve.

So I went to the bookstore, this being the days before e-books, and I bought the Complete Idiot's Guide to Information Technology. The brazen color cover notwithstanding, I learned a tremendous amount. Those types of books are fantastic for catching you up on the vernacular. Little text bubbles defined unfamiliar terms, and soon I could have preliminary discussions without feeling like I was in a foreign land.

Over the years, this scenario has repeated. When I started purchasing ad time on radio and TV, I needed a vocabulary primer. When we built a new website, I needed an acronym-demystifyer (CMS, SEO, what the heck??).

I am embarking on a new project and even though I've been in this job for nearly 10 years, I'm finding the same need for basic education. We are doing some brand identity and development work. The first time I met with our consultant, she brandished marketing jargon like a confident gunslinger. My head started to spin. So I asked her to develop a glossary of sorts so I could better understand her pitch. I needed to know the difference between a brand architecture and brand refresh, so I could make an educated decision about what we needed.

The exercise was good for both of us. In asking her to clearly articulate what each phrase meant, she reflected on the meaning for our context. Not only will this glossary help me determine the scope of our project but it gives me accessible tools to explain the work to the people of the diocese. I don't want them to shut down because I'm using unfamiliar jargon.
I think there are some good lessons from these experiences for our congregations. We need to be well-informed. Acknowledging that we don't know something doesn't signal ignorance but hunger. Secondly going through the process of defining the vocabulary provides clarity, both among the project coordinators and the people in the pews.

Organ restorations, endowment decisions, IT upgrades may all be better received and supported if people have a clear picture of what's happening. And in the process, we might learn a thing or ten.