Euphemisms, and a career-extending paradox

I use a number of euphemisms all the time, in my conversations with folks, trying to balance complete yet brief communications.

A common phrase when trying to show that you’ve seen a similar situation before is … “In a previous life …” (IAPL), as in “In a previous life, we did consolidated financials within the ERP …”. I find it’s a bit smoother than citing the bigger company you used to work for (sounds condescending) or the smaller company you worked for (might not be taken seriously).

Another favorite of mine (variations exist in most IT shops) is the ever-popular “gets hit by a truck“, as in “Who will process the data files if Jim gets hit by a truck?”. In the 80’s and early 90’s, it was a polite way of saying “… if Jim gets another / better job”; nowadays you could be referring to layoffs / outsourcing / M&A transitions as well.

True story: IAPL, I once posed the question to a meeting – one of my first with this group of people – “what do we do if Sally gets hit by a bus?”. After the meeting, Sally (not her real name) came to me and was a bit offended, as if I wanted to see physical harm come her way. I was a bit surprised by this reaction – I’d heard the phrase for years in IT circles, and this was an IT person. You never know …

The Career-Extending Paradox appears when you understand the proper way to manage the Hit by a Truck (HBAT) syndrome. Common IT wisdom says the drive for standards, automation, and above all process documentation is how the company / management team can protect from losing key talent when said talent moves on to their next Opportunity. However, most tech folks as a rule resist the documentation task – tedious, boring, not challenging, but I suppose there is also a hint of job-protection in there as well. After all, one thinks, if I am the only one who knows how to do something, they can’t fire me, right?

Two problems with that thinking …

  1. Wrong, they’ll smoke you anyway
  2. It becomes a set of virtual handcuffs, that ties you forever to do this particular processing job, leaving no time for new and exciting projects / opportunities.

The great paradox comes when you realize that, using automation, process simplification, and documentation, you need to constantly eliminate your own job to keep moving forward. At first, it’s a bit unnerving when you think of it that way, but that’s really the only way you can keep moving forward – don’t get tied down!

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.