Difference of Opinion

Differing definitions are, like differing points-of-view, an opportunity to birth new ideas

Last week, I talked about your “business lexicon” as a diamond-in-the-rough asset you can polish – by transforming it into a micro-dictionary of original points of view.

This process happens naturally if haphazardly for anyone who publishes significant amounts of content. At some point, you must define your terms.

But what happens when you and your client, or you and your partner, collaborator, etc., hold differing definitions of the same term? Could it lead to your advice being ignored? Could it stall a project or weaken it with cross-purposes?

How do you resolve that conflict? 

You reimagine it for what it is: a non-conflict.

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I have found many definitions in the OED that are longer than 4,000 words; these have dozens of “senses,” the lexicographical terms for “meanings.”

When your definition of, say, “Big Idea” (eg. “what should the Big Idea behind this product launch be?”) differs from someone you are collaborating with on a venture, there’s not necessarily a conflict. There’s not a wrong definition (though there may be a less helpful one.) 

Instead, you are simply working with two different senses of the same word – in addition to the ones that the normal dictionary already provides for us. 

Controlling personalities love to, “get everyone on the same page.” That’s fine, as long as that page gets to have on it lots of competing/complimentary definitions – and ideas.

In A Technique for Getting Ideas, James Wood Young said:

We tend to forget that words are, themselves, ideas. They might be called ideas in a state of suspended animation. When the words are mastered the ideas tend to come alive again….Thus, words being symbols of ideas, we can collect ideas by collecting words.

For our purposes here, words (or terms) are bundles of multiple ideas. Including your own ideas and those of your fellow business wayfarers.

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David Ogilvy owned the term, “Big Idea.” Still does.

How did he do it? He published a definition.

And he did so better than anyone had or has since. You can read the original definition in its entirety in Ogilvy On Advertising, but here’s a brief excerpt:

Big ideas have talk value

Big ideas stretch brands

Big ideas transcend cultural and geographic boundaries

He also connected “Big Idea” with another marketing word he owned: “boring“. He remarked:

One of the greatest sins of marketing (and of many other domains, too) is to be boring. It is rude and disrespectful

and offered specific advice on how to be non-boring:

If you want to be interesting,
be interested.

Here’s the upshot: when Ogilvy met a differing definition of Big Idea (or marketing or advertising, etc), do you think he was boring – or interested?

One of the core capacities of a consultant is to be interested, especially when you run into an original and surprising definition of a term that is important to your business. Even if it differs from yours. 

Have a great weekend (: