Will Words Will Break Your Bones?

Back in high school, I took a creative writing class in my Junior year because, at one point, I thought I was going to become a writer. That class was a total blast – our teacher – Ms. Marshall (the first Ms. I’d ever met up until that point) was super cool. I still fondly remember the class on “logophobia” or “fear of words,” as we went around the room trying to one-up each other on the “worst word in the English language.”

Yes, my high school teacher encouraged us 16-year-olds to yell out the nastiest curse words you ever did hear, while she wrote them on the board. She then asked us to vote for the worst of the words – then explain why we thought those words were so horrible. Once we’d done that, she went on to explain that logophobia is unwarranted, and typically most people use words like this to provoke a response, and if these words were thrown at you to do that – then your best answer is no response.

The only person who can give those words power is the recipients of the word. The speaker may wish to provoke, but the listener has the choice to react. And they can choose not to. That taught me that words are nothing to fear. Yet, many people still fear words.

I’ve seen this throughout my career, especially in corporate innovation. Some feel that if you don’t mention the “hot button words,” which will trigger a response in folks, then maybe there is a better chance that a project will move forward. Teams spend inordinate amounts of time coming up with names for projects which excite people and attempt to steer clear of bogeyman words, which will sink a project.

Several years ago, I worked with a financial institution that was deathly afraid of the word “cryptocurrency.” Although many of their competitors were already researching it, they didn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. They were so wary of the word that they had it stricken from all internal communications. No research in that space was permitted. No mention of the word was allowed internal to the organization. They even went so far as to set their corporate email filters to both flag and censor the word if anyone used it in emails within the company.

Imagine a company so afraid of a word that to use it, triggered an automatic alert to your manager. That is the power of a word.

But, like at many companies, words are blockers. Do you think that any financial institution on this planet would survive the next ten years of destructive innovation in the payment space without at minimum at least researching cryptocurrency?

Other companies have other words. Employees at those companies learn quickly which words to use and which words not to use; otherwise, they are deemed “not a culture fit” and are shown the door.

Unfortunately, something as minor as a word has so many people quaking with fear. If we just learned that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” then who knows how far we’d go? Who knows how much disruptive innovation was back-burnered because the innovators used the wrong words?

To innovate, among other things, you need to conquer your logophobia. Does your company suffer from it?