Ask five managers the top 3 things their current company can improve and seven of them will list Communication in some shape or form. The most interesting fact is that the same managers when they need to deliver a message (like... in... communicate) with their team they do things like this:
"gm GGHV team, FYI, regarding the project WST I would like to point out that the WW team (which is part of GRC btw) found an issue with our IDP. We are currently running a PoC with a new lib and hopefully a PR will be submitted soon to resolve this in our Isildur's Bane service".With love, the manager
Meanwhile, this is how Joseph who joined the company (and the team) 1 week ago looks when reading this cryptic message:
We will get into the usage of Acronyms (and Initialisms... and Abbreviations) in one second but this crazy hype train of giving names to things that doesn't resonate with 95% of people to me is... mind blowing. Poor Joseph who hasn't read/watched Lord of the Rings (or like me watched the movie 20 years ago) and doesn't have a clue (or can't remember) what Isildur's Bane is. My favorite story on this comes from this tweet from Gergely Orosz (The person who writes the awesome The Pragmatic Engineer blog and newsletter):
Can you imagine that? They gave a name to the system simply the "bank" emoji, like this: 🏦. Uber's Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Uber had to intervene at some point and say enough is enough! I truly understand why and I'm 100% with the guy! Let me prove a point here, imagine we ask 2 companies to give us a list of their critical systems/services and we get the below table for services that have the same functionality. What does look simpler/easier for you (or anyone else) to understand?
|Company A||Company B|
|J.A.R.V.I.S||eCommerce Data Lake|
|Just The Tail of The Horse||eCommerce lite|
|Isildur's Bane||Identity Provider|
There is a clear winner here!
(and it is not you Company A, sorry J.A.R.V.I.S! It is not personal. Please spare me when Artificial Intelligence (AI) take down humanity)
Now let's go back to the excess usage of Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations.. OMG... OMG... (OH-MY-GOD). I must admit that I didn't know that there is a difference between Acronym and Initialism and found out only because I was trying to write about them in this blog post. In short, Acronyms can be pronounced, just like NASA (which stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and Initialisms can't, instead you say the letters when pronouncing it just like: FBI (which means Federal Bureau of Investigation). Abbreviations are just when you are lazy when typing and instead of writing "Good Morning" you write gm. I don't think it happens too often when you are speaking as I never saw someone say "Hi dr" instead of "Hi doctor".
Let's assume good intend here and imagine people use those shorter versions instead of the full thing because they think in doing so they are being more efficient and faster while communicating. And, in fact, it helps at least one person: whomever is using them, after all, it is much easier to write/say APM instead of Application Portfolio Management.
But if we remove the good intent, things start getting more obscure and weird. It is almost like Acronyms “confer a kind of secret insider knowledge; they give people a way to talk about an idea in shorthand. They increase the perceived importance of ideas, and at the same time they also help keep other ideas from entering the inner circle” accordingly to Dan Ariely writer of the Upside of Irrationality (I read this amazing quote here and I had to reproduce it verbatim because it is too good). The same apply for giving goofy names to things I guess, it is this sense of being part of a exclusive group that knows deep inside the real meaning and the psychology around that. Although it might be good for the ones participating in the inner circle, what about everyone else?
Unless you are trying to confuse people or be obscure while communicating you should avoid at maximum the usage of Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations when speaking and writing because:
- Instead of being efficient and communicating faster you are actually doing the opposite increasing cognitive load
- People can feel excluded or not part of the inner circle when they don't understand what your are talking about
- In order to appear "smart", folks will pretend they understand just to get along
- It doesn't help in any way on creating an open environment
- The same acronyms can mean different things. Even worse, within the same industry! So, it is guaranteed more confusion ahead! Some good examples that crossed my mind right now: IDP = Identity Provider or IDP = Internal Developer Platform? APM = Application Portfolio Management or APM = Application Performance Monitoring? MDM = Mobile Device Management or MDM = Master Data Management?
- A lot of people work in a remote-global environment and async communication in English is their way to go. In this setup, there are a lof of nonnative English speakers trying to communicate and understand stuff. Using AFAIK instead of writing As far as I know makes the communication even harder
- All those side effects are even worse and amplified for newcomers or people with less experience
if you are not convinced yet, here are a few highlights from a research that was made on the subject: The growth of acronyms in the scientific literature:
- There was at least one acronym in 19% of the titles and 73% of the abstracts
- From more than one million unique acronyms in the data, just over 2,000 (0.2%) were used regularly, and most acronyms (79%) appeared fewer than 10 times
- One year after their first use, only 11% of acronyms had been re-used
- The acronym UA has 18 different meanings just in the field of medicine
The final paragraph of the study also is pure gold:
"Our work shows that new acronyms are too common, and common acronyms are too rare. Reducing acronyms should boost understanding and reduce the gap between the information we produce and the knowledge that we use‚ without 'dumbing down' the science. We suggest a second use for DNA: do not abbreviate"
In summary, here are three rules to live by if you want to create an open and welcoming environment, be more inclusive and more clear while communicating:
Rule #1: If you have to explain WHY your system/service/process/project/team is called Isildur's Bane to someone, you are not helping. Please give names to things that make sense!
Rule #2: Avoid Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations as much as you can. Same thing apply here: if you have to explain what an Acronym is to someone you are not helping  and please don't create new ones. I know it will be impossible to avoid them and when you have to use ALWAYS explain what you mean in the first place. e.g.: Application Performance Monitoring (APM)
Rule #3: If someone uses an Acronym/Initialism/Abbreviation simply ask what it means. Every Time. Even if you know what it means just ask. Don't be afraid. It might be that someone that is participating on the conversation doesn't know what it means and is afraid of asking. Help them, help the conversation flow more naturally
(waiting for you dear reader-police to point out in the comments that I used a lot of Acronyms in previous posts. Well, that is true, but in my defense I haven't created any - well, that is a lie I created SUA as a joke in the title of this post! - and always tried to explain what they meant, KISS and COD are good examples of that)