Actionable Analytics: It's Coming Out of Dilbert's Boss' Mouth...Is it Useless Industry Jargon?
James Kobielus 06000021Q7 firstname.lastname@example.org | 2013-01-10 15:07:59.0 | 0 Comments | 8,917 Visits
By James Kobielus
The "Dilbert" comic strip is the funniest mirror we have to the foibles of the high-tech world. Scott Adams, who used to be in the info tech biz before taking up cartooning, is obviously paying close attention to the post-modern absurdities of our working lives. Clearly, Dilbert himself--an engineer, after all--is a geek like us. Most of his waking hours have him trying to cut through nonsense while struggling, against hilarious odds, to develop products that might make some teeny tiny difference for the better in customers' lives.
As a highly specialized sort of tech geek--a "big data evangelist"--it's with particular glee that I read this "Dilbert" installment from January 9:
Jargon? Well, yes and no. I'm also a language geek, so I'm quite aware of the multi-layered meanings of that term.Here's what Merriam-Webster has to say:
a : confused unintelligible language
b : a strange, outlandish, or barbarous language or dialect
c : a hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech
: the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group
: obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words
At the risk of sounding a tad defensive and pointy-headed, allow me to quickly vet the assertion that this terminology is "jargon."
No one would deny that, in Merriam-Webster's second sense, "big data," "cloud," "in-memory," "accelerate," or "actionable analytics" are "technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group."
But they are not, in the third sense, obscure (most people in our industry have a passing familiarity with them all), long (unless your tongue trips over 1-, 2-, and 4-syllable words), or even pretentious (many people may have shallow understandings of this stuff, but they aren't usually showing off when they speak the words).
Nor are these terms, per the first two subparts of the first sense, confused, unintelligible, strange, outlandish, or barbarous. But the third part of the first sense is accurate: "a hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech."
And that, I submit, is not a bad thing. A jargon can be a lingua franca that harmoniously bridges conversations between groups that otherwise are on very different wavelengths. All of this specialized terminology is useful precisely because it gives the pointy-haired bosses and pointy-headed engineers of the world a common vocabulary for discussing important matters. When the pointy-haired start using it, it sounds (to the pointy-headed of this world) like they're out of their depth. When the pointy-headed use it, it sounds (to the pointy-haired) like they're just indulging in useless shop talk.
As far as I'm concerned, people abuse jargon's lingua franca role when they overuse a term to the point of cliche. In those cases, both the pointy-haired and pointy-headed mouth empty syllables without any deep agreement on what they mean. In this particular strip, the boss has just acquired these terms (apparently), so, to him, they're not yet cliches (Dilbert is hip, and he knows otherwise).
From my standpoint as a tech geek, the squirmiest cliche that the pointy-haired one uses is "actionable." Yes, I myself have been known to use this term from time to time. In fact, a quick self-search shows that I blogged it over a half-dozen times last year. I should note, though, that I geekily ripped it to shreds the last time I used it:
"'Prescriptive' is akin to 'actionable' in the lexicon of normative adjectives applied to the noun 'analytics.' In terms of meaning, 'prescriptive' is a bit closer to the imperative end of the normative spectrum (i.e, 'thou shalt...') than is 'actionable' (which is more instrumental and wishy-washy, pitched at 'thou shalt base thy decision on what's presented here').....I prefer to think in terms of 'analytic-driven guidance,' rather than 'actionable,' 'prescriptive,' 'proscriptive' and whatnot. Different analytics apps are packaged and pitched with different levels and types of guidance (explicit or implicit) for various decision scenarios."
But I'm pointy-headed in the extreme. If your or my boss just wants to say "actionable," I'm cool with that too.