Make acronyms your enemy

Most see the act of saying something that has absolutely no chance of ever coming to fruition or doing something that has absolutely no chance of success, as utterly pointless. But to my mind there is a certain nobility in the futile.

Futility is hugely underrated.

The decision of Lord Cardigan to send the British Light Cavalry into a frontal assault against superbly well prepared Russian artillery, was absolutely futile. But by Christ it made for a magnificent piece of poetry. Indeed, an admiration for futility is hard wired into the British psyche, maybe it’s the underdog thing.

So, I’m going attempt something utterly futile, a suggestion that has absolutely no likelihood of being realised or implemented. And that is to rid our organisations and our conversations of acronyms, those pervasive little abbreviations and initialisms that find so much favour in the advertising industry.

In this I am merely following the example set by Elon Musk who takes a very dim view of acronyms. So much so that he sent an all staff email to the rocket scientists at Space X asking them to kill as many as possible, believing acronyms to be an impediment to successful communication. Having listened to his Joe Rogan podcast, I’m not entirely sure about Elon’s sanity but I’m siding with Mr Musk on this.

Acronyms are lazy. This is a business of graft, craft and endeavour, of people that are anything but lazy and slipshod and where God is usually found in the detail. But offer us the chance to adopt a simplistic set of initials rather than actual words and we grab it with both hands. Day to day work becomes BAU, next year’s plan an AOP, a call to action is a CTA, distinctive brand assets DBAs and key visuals, KVs. Honestly, I’m not even sure its quicker to say KV than Key Visual. Use real words, after all ever since the telegram ceased to be a central part of the marketing armoury it hasn’t cost any more to use the appropriate number of syllables.

And acronyms exclude. Without doubt, one of the intoxicating attractions of your own special language is that no one else can understand what you are on about. And let’s be honest we all enjoy feeling a little special and that we understand things other people don’t, like the difference between CPC, CPL, CPM, CPA and the CTR. In a future that demands that we are more inclusive and open to new talents and people with different experiences, policing a lexicon of acronyms that make the linguistic endeavours of JRR Tolkien look like a Ladybird book, is going to be a bad look.

But the thing I loathe most about acronyms is that they obscure meaning. That’s what should really rankle about the damn things in a business where creating and shaping meaning is literally our day job. By reducing an idea to a set off letters all too often the original sense of it is obliterated. If distinctive brand assets become DBAs, it’s easy to sneak through something that isn’t distinctive at all. If key performance indicators become KPIs its all the easier to measure something that doesn’t actually constitute actual performance. And if the responsibility you have to society is reduced to the letters C,S and R then how much easier it is to shirk the obligations that a business has to those around them. In this way acronyms become part of the double speak of business, softening and neutering the power and meaning of the original words. If you have gone to the effort to create a set of words that convey something meaningful don’t then crush them into a three or four-letter proxy, shorn of any of your original intent.

Try this out today and play acronym bingo in your next meeting. You will be astonished at how much of the conversation isn’t carried our using real words at all, just the machine gun rattle of the special code of your company, sector or our industry at large. Then to experience true futility, politely suggest that everyone drops the acronyms and see if they are prepared to give them up. You, yourself will feel like one of Lord Cardigan’s troops, noble but doomed.

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