31.Oct.2016 What’s in a Name?


How We Use Categories

As truisms go, ‘to categorise something is to reduce it’ is pretty unarguable. Life is complex, and any time we use genre in music or fiction, or put a name to an emotion, or even use a descriptive label such as a colour, we’re editing out nuance for the sake of convenience. Where does horror end and thriller begin? Where does Green end and Blue begin? We have to make distinctions so we can function without spending hours describing every little thing. But we don’t often stop to think how they shape our thought.

Why Do We Focus Where We Do?

One example is with educational subjects: where does drama end and music begin, or biology end and chemistry begin? When we give a subject a name, we are creating a centre from which exploration and focus on that subject radiates. In a different universe, maybe the subjects are named differently, or the boundaries drawn differently. Maybe what for us is the middle spot between maths and music is a subject all its own, a new centre point which draws in different students, has a different focus, has led to new discoveries and work. Intersections between disciplines are known to be rewarding places to work – imagine if we’d been working on them ever since education began (but then, of course, our subjects’ centres might themselves be intersections, and less-researched.

The Surprising Implications of Re-Framing Topics Slightly

This is an extreme case, of course, and there are often good arguments as to why a subject is centred in one place, but even a slight re-framing could change the focus somewhat. If ‘maths’ were instead called ‘the language of interrelationships in the natural world’, it would still be broadly the same subject, but might have a different, more applied focus. Perhaps non-applied maths would then be part of physics. If ‘biology’ were called ‘life’, it might include a little more philosophy. If ‘art’ were called ‘representation’, it would certainly steer the study of it in different directions. This isn’t to suggest any of these changes should go ahead, but it’s interesting to consider. Where certain changes are going ahead – with good results – is in the area of adult learning. Titles of training courses can often remain unchanged for decades, but when a change is applied it can keep us up to date with the way business culture has changed.

Time Management or Productivity?

Time Management sounds dull. I train it, and I’ve always thought that. It always carries a sense of being for those who can’t get to work on time or meet deadlines, being somewhat remedial. But productivity is something we all strive for. And it’s something we all get to define. Where do you add value? What is your product? Once you’ve defined that, productivity becomes a positive and flexible exercise in getting more of it. Many of the same tools are used either way, but the new focus opens the way for new tools which fit under the new banner, and which are more suited to today’s business culture and the focus of most workplaces. I run productivity courses where I can instead of Time Management ones, and it subtly transforms the focus into something people are happier to sign up for, one that people think they need, and one that gathers around it positive, productive concepts and exercises.

Stress Management or Resilience?

Stress Management: again the term implies you can’t currently handle stress. It also has a dated feel to it. Resilience is a more positive, up-to-date spin. We all have a certain amount of resilience, and it’s a life skill that we could all do continuously developing. And this is an area where positivity is crucial. ‘Resilience’ also re-frames things slightly by focusing on an ongoing set of proactive tools that means we can bounce back from or handle difficulty, rather than a focus in Stress Management which can seem to be about reactive sticking-plasters on individual causes of stress.

Staff Development or Talent Management?

Admittedly, ‘Staff Development’ isn’t as much a staple as the other two I’ve mentioned, but there are a raft of courses with similar names around developing your team and helping them learn, grow and progress. Talent Management again uses a more positive spin, and this time a more strategic one. No longer is this about fixing problems, but about an ongoing process of recognising and nurturing talent and bringing it along in the organisation. Problem-solving (in a development context) is easy to fit under that banner, while still sounding positive.

Making it Work

Admittedly, injury has often been done to learning by putting the name cart before the content horse in learning and development. First and foremost should come the question, what outcomes are needed? But often people are guided by what’s out there, and to get people into the same room we often need a banner to rally around. The examples above show that that banner should be one that’s in sync with the culture we find ourselves in today, and that we should think twice before just going with what we’ve always used.

Write a Comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>