When Noah Webster produced the first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language in April 1828, he insisted that: “As an independent nation, our honor [sic] requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government.” And so, by the fall of that year, as the view from the railroad caboose showed leaves in a blaze of color, American English had moved center stage…
Seriously though, Webster’s use of language to create a new ‘superior’ identity for his ‘tribe’ is an interesting example of how languages diverge. As evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel points out in a fascinating essay in New Scientist this week, linguistic diversity is rooted in the desire to assert the identity of a ‘tribe’, most often against a backdrop of conflict over territory and resources: “There really has been a war of words going on”.
One of the many extraordinary phenomena of our time is the speed with which a truly global language is emerging. The result, says Pagel, is “a mass extinction of languages to rival the great biological extinctions in Earth’s past”.
One in six of us on the planet may speak Mandarin but humanity is rapidly converging upon English as its auxiliary language. Vastly more people learn English as a second language than any other. Global corporations may be headquartered in Germany, France, China or Spain but English is almost invariably their adopted global language.
But in the world of work, and especially in the world of global business, English only goes so far. Work is increasingly complex. Most often, it requires collaboration between many people, in different regions and organizational units, with different motivations and with different roles and responsibilities – and all enabled and automated by IT systems.
To even describe work in this context is challenging. To collaborate effectively, to exploit new opportunities in an increasingly interconnected and cumulatively more complex world, demands a language above and beyond English.
In the same way that, through no plan or expressed intent, simply for the benefits it brings, English is becoming the world’s favourite auxiliary language, so too with process, which, by a similar evolutionary path, has emerged as the global business language essential for effective collaboration. Procure to Pay, Value Chains, Operating Models, Lean Manufacturing, Hire to Retire, Order to Cash, Supply Chains – these terms have emerged as part of the everyday vocabulary of process.
This new world calls for a new conception of process. To be fit for use, it can no longer be the preserve of a corporate elite – in IT or Quality or the Six Sigma team – it has to be universal. It needs to connect with people doing real work: to support them and to enable them to contribute to improving the way things are done. And so it has, above all, to be engaging: visual, intuitive and personalised.
No surprise then that a process management platform is coming to be seen as the beating heart of the 21st century enterprise, the essential infrastructure that enables effective collaboration on innovation and continuous improvement.
Noah Webster was a revolutionary and idealist so I think he would probably approve of the way global languages are bringing humanity closer. Either way, he must be tickled pink that a Brit is writing this in American English.
19 Nov 2012 No Corporate Asset Is Wasted So Spectacularly
28 Aug 2012 The ROI On Process Visualization