Building barriers or tearing them down?

I’m having a hard time finding time to write about a few topics that require some significant groundwork to get to, so here’s one thing that often bothers me; completely unnecessary barriers people often unconsciously put up.

Do ecologically responsible people have a secret dress code?

I like to think of myself as a person both enlightened about and concerned about environmental and ecological matters; “green” to a certain degree, if you will. That means I’ve frequented events and places where such topics are discussed, and I’ve noticed that I clearly stand out from the crowd on most occasions. Whereas I’m often dressed along the lines of business casual, it seems that “green” folks, particularly the hard-core variety, have some kind of a secret dress-code that requires colourful outfits, shabby hairstyle, preferably a beard, and clothes – or at least bags – made from hemp etc. So can you not be really green unless you dress the part?

This presents a dilemma; I firmly believe one of the reasons many “green” ideas sometimes lack credibility in the mainstream business and media is that their spokesmen and -women look “too different” from the dominant style in the fora that they present in. It’s a well known and researched fact that unfamiliar/different looks have a clear (often negative) impact on how the person is perceived. Sometimes I feel that my attire (and mind you, I don’t don things like Armani suits anywhere – but I do lack the hemp clothes and the beard, too) has a similar impact on the “other” side; people feel sceptical because I don’t look the part. So it goes both ways, and it’s as if my looks don’t match my values.

All of this is obviously wrong, damaging to both sides and can seriously limit the possibilities of real progress being made. Which brings me to another point, namely..

Limiting cross-domain co-operation through segregated terminology (or: we don’t learn from each other because we don’t understand one another)

Ever talk to, say, an investment banker? Or a climatologist? Or a network designer? Or an economist? Or any specialist, really – they all employ a very unique vocabulary, acquired from studies and from experience. Regardless of their speciality, there is an abundance of special words and abbreviations that are most often only understood by the that particular group of people. People who don’t understand the terminology are automatically assumed of being incapable of understanding the concepts either, and are pretty much immediately disqualified as potential sources of advice. Because what do they know, they don’t even know what a CDS, or CDN, or CDA, or whatever it may be, stands for!

Unfortunately for everyone, the vast majority of the concepts could be discussed in plain language, or at most simplified only a little, into a form that most people of normal intelligence would be able to understand. At least the gist of whatever it is. But few people from any profession take the time to explain their field in simple terms; some are simply unable to speak normally any more, and maybe other “experts” take some bizarre pride in being able to talk in a complex manner with their peers, extract some odd sense of superiority in being able to speak what in essence is a foreign language even though the language may be the same, or some other reason. And it need not be because of arrogance, maybe people just don’t really understand that everyone does not understand their terminology. I know I often think – whether I’m talking about a fact, situation, term or whatever – that “well if even I know this, how could not everyone?”

But malicious or not, these communication and co-operation barriers are also very damaging. It inhibits or even prevents the cross-pollination of ideas, concepts, solutions and methods between different groups of people, different lines of research and different types of businesses. I love cross-domain stuff, and some domains have an annoyingly steep learning curve before you really can even begin to scratch the surface. Maybe people working in every domain should strive to make theirs more approachable to the rest of the people and more understandable to everyone. People in all domains could learn so much, and maybe success stories like IDEO could become much more common.

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