Sometimes you need to go back in time –- say four hundred years — to understand that things have not changed. The movie Luther showed me that. What happened in the beginning of the sixteenth century is still of present interest.
Where a historical drama can never really approximate history as it really was, there is one very interesting aspect with a contemporary influence; language differences and the role of knowledge.
We all are aware of the importance of knowledge and that knowledge is the oil that keeps the economic motor running. Yet knowledge is also many times a problem. Organizations often depend on single employees or managers knowing how to manage certain activities. And then, the various departments use different languages and to manage activities from end-to-end is a real challenge that is common to any organization.
Somewhere at the end of the film -– and I’m glad I saw it because my knowledge of history didn’t reach that far –- Luther started the translation of the bible into German.
You can find many different languages in business but the main opponents are the commercial and the technical language. A commercial language is obviously uttered in the area of sales, and it is not so much the language itself but its focus on the market; what’s happening out there? A commercial language could be seen as the language of the demand side. What people want or need, what they see, buy…The day to day communication. The language of emotion.
The technical language is a language that is spoken where things are constructed, an internal language focused on how things work and function. A technical language is used to build a car, understanding how the motor works. A commercial language is what you need when you want to sell the same car.
Before Luther, the bible was available in Latin or Greek.
That’s why the Roman Catholic Church members could easily sell indulgences. Nobody -– on the street — really understood what was going on. It was Latin to them. So they bought these, for a better life (afterwards).
Luther changed this practice. He translated the script so it was open to the public. Did he commercialize the bible? I wouldn’t go that far…
One of the aspects of knowledge management is opening knowledge, making the tacit knowledge that is somewhere locked-up in the minds of individuals, open for the group. Making it explicit.
In organizations, this is not seldom about making technical knowledge available for others. Translating the technical writings into a more commercial language.
So what now?
Different languages will always exist. Where different teams with different background meet, you should always reserve time to translate, to bridge the gaps.
Don’t forget to put it somewhere on the agenda if you think it applies in your situation.
© 2006 Hans Bool
Hans Bool is the founder of Astor White a traditional management consulting company that offers online management advice. Astor Online solves issues in hours what normally would take days.
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