A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK

The language of business


Had a very interesting chat with Reuben Turner of the Good Agency the other day.

As Reuben pointed out,  many of the ad men of Madison Avenue, that I have loved to watch on Mad Men, were returning to work from the Second World War, and they brought with them into advertising and marketing the language of war.

To this day we continue to use the language of targeting, for example. The idea is that we can select a target group of customers and then bombard them with our ideas and messages, until we win their hearts and minds and turn them to our point of view.

I have written about the language of business before. From a slightly different angle, Sam Keen said ‘Business is just warfare in slow motion’.

But it is fascinating to think how the language of war has spread so widely into business – presumably through the huge influence of advertising and marketing. In business we fight the competition, and our choice of terms such as goals, milestones, burning platforms and beachheads all smacks of struggle and the wrong kind of conflict.

It’s all about winning and losing. Business is only rarely about reparation, or giving.

This frame has been adopted in many market segments, and has also spread more widely into society and every day culture.

For example, we talk of the ‘battle against cancer’.  Poet Anthony Wilson writes about this. It would be interesting to try to track the spread of this language from the ad men into the pharmaceutical industry and then into medicine.

The rise of executive coaching doesn’t seem to have done much to halt this process. Senior managers are encouraged to set goals, and achieve their targets. Work life becomes something we all need to battle through. Ultimately we need to compete, and to win.

Of course, we can’t completely blame the ad men.

Psychologists also had remarkable influence on the thinking in Madison Avenue – as documented in Vance Parkard’s great book ‘The Hidden Persuaders‘. For example, how was it that spending rather than saving became the moral thing to do? Just how did consumerism arise?

But then these psychologists were also perhaps high on the apparent success of various psychological innovations (such as the development of personality typing) that arose during the Second World War.

And I suppose ultimately there is nothing wrong with having a frame. Any frame can be helpful, whether it is war, or sport or something else. We can use the language of a particular frame to distinguish and separate things and to make ourselves clear.

But I do think it is helpful to be aware of the frames we choose. This, for me, is at the core of Conscious Business.

For me, Conscious Business isn’t just about behaving ethically, and doing good. Nor is it just about ‘holism’ and everything being connected. It isn’t just about transparency, or personal responsibility, or even better communication.

It is all these things.

But for me, and it is a personal view, Conscious Business is really about trying to understand how we experience the world, and what effect that has on the results we create – both good and bad. It is about seeing our frames.

With that kind of consciousness comes choice. And that feels very worthwhile.

Author: Pete Burden

New ways to organise and lead - for people with 'purpose' #leadership #inquiry #noticing #complexity #communication

5 thoughts on “The language of business

  1. Very well put Pete. I had never thought of the origin of this ‘war-like’ language coming from actual war zones. Now you’ve pointed it out, it seems a bit obvious!
    My husband died of cancer 18 months ago. During his time with the illness, he never referred to it as a battle, in fact he actively went against that in his own blog, doing his best to understand how the visit of this disease could be healing at all levels (see Even though he eventually died, that last year was the most loving and connected we ever had, and he certainly healed at all kinds of levels, if not physical.

    In business, the emphasis on winning and losing is so unnecessary – and yet it happens when neither person is able to be in a more conscious place within themselves and society, let alone business. I work with small business owners who are already interested in personal growth and see their own business as part of that path. The more of this the better, as far as I can see 🙂 Fantastic you are doing this work, and encouraging it more in others. May it spread widely!

  2. Loved this. Great finish too – I think it’s important to clarify that being conscious isn’t about being preachy – it’s about being aware. And I think that’s a critical stage – only when we’re consciously aware of something can we make the empowering decision of what we’d like to do – I.e. take action.

  3. Pingback: Best posts – year by year |

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