What does the frequency of the use of certain words tell us about a given organization? Can the frequent use of a word reveal an institutional focus? Think of any organization to which you have belonged – what word or words would show up most often in its written communications? If you were to “control F” search all of these documents which words would show up most frequently? Would the words most used align with the organizations self image? Would they align with the leader’s vision for the organization?
Our military is very fond of a quote to the effect of: “The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.” This quote is always attributed to “A German General” but I think some American made it up at some point simply because I think that it is not true and that a German General would know enough to know that 1) it isn’t true and 2) the German Army were the real masters of performing in chaos. An analogous quote is also attributed to some unknown German of high rank… “A serious problem in planning against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine.” We really love these quotes. We put them on t-shirts and paint them on the walls of our military offices… trouble is they may not be true. The fact that American servicemen love these quotes so much might tell you much more about the sort of organization we wish we belonged to than it does about the organization we actually belong to.
In fact, Jörg Muth, the author of a recent book on American Command Culture Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War , (review here) made some interesting observations about American Command Culture as discussed in an article available at Foreignpolicy.com. “If the most important verb and the most important noun should be found for the U.S. Army and the Wehrmacht according to the vast amount of manuals, regulations, letters, diaries and autobiographies I have read they would be ‘to manage’ and ‘doctrine’ for the U.S. Army and führen (to lead) and Angriff (attack) for the Wehrmacht. Such a comparison alone points out a fundamentally different approach to warfare and leadership.” So, according to Mr. Muth, history and our own writings show us that it was the Germans, not the American army who were masters of chaos and the Americans who were rigid and inflexible. Muth’s thesis is supported by the older and very widely read research and writings of both Martin Van Crefeld and Trevor Dupuy.
So, what are your organizations “words”? Do those words indicate an organizational focus that matches your brand?