had to look it up. Its called ‘semantic saturation’: that weird thing that happens as a word is repeated and repeated until it, and its meaning, has been all worn out and all becomes non-sense. You probably did this when you were small. You know, chanting ‘strawberry jam’ over and over again until it was just a squidgy mess in your head. Jam, in fact. A small person was playing this in the café today. Rather smartly, in a post ironic sort of way, with the word ‘why’. (And wow, what a patient mum. Respect.)
I raise it because I think that ‘semantic saturation’ is happening in regular life with regular concepts. Particularly when reading the same dwindling vocabulary’ found in the yards of books and articles concerned with business / management / strategy advice. For example, there have been a lot of articles about ‘asking the right questions’ recently. These questions must be powerful, they must be smart, they must be focused, they must be meaningful etc. etc.
Being an eldest child that immediately puts me in ‘I must learn and master or I fail’ mode.
Yet the real advice here is probably terrifically simple.
Isn’t it just to remember to think ‘is this normal’? Or ‘why are things this way?’ Isn’t it just to ask……’why?’
Just as I was wondering whether this was really rather lightweight advice, I came upon an interesting interview. The New York Times has just shared the result of some time – so rarely granted – with Jony Ive of Apple. (There is a lovely style to East Coast journalistic interviewing which I think always brings back the goods – the ‘well, I didn’t know that’ school of enquiry) And what a gem. The interviewer, Ian Parker, visited Ive in Apple’s Design Studio (article). He was shown a covered corridor that linked Ive’s office with Job’s. It wasn’t until this visit, this interview, that Ive discovered that no other buildings were linked in this way.
So if the toppest of top designers – whose designs have changed all our lives can forget to think ‘ Is this normal?’ I think a) this suggests that the advice to remember to ask ‘why’ is not so lightweight after all, and b) we might allow ourselves a little holiday from our stay on the self punishment block. Don’t you think?
Now, 1,2,3..strawberry jam, strawberry jam, strawberry…