We made a mistake

April 24, 2011

The 37signals blog posted this quote from Cisco CEO John Chambers, about the decision to cancel the recently acquired Flip Video Camera product line:

We are making key, targeted moves as we align operations in support of our network-centric platform strategy. As we move forward, our consumer efforts will focus on how we help our enterprise and service provider customers optimize and expand their offerings for consumers, and help ensure the network’s ability to deliver on those offerings.

Unfortunately Google Translate doesn’t yet help you decipher corporate-ese, but I think what he was trying to say was something like:

We made a mistake. We’re going to try something different.

Nobody real talks like that. So, why would they choose to use such obscure language? (I say “they” because in a large company this invariably passed through many hands rather than being written or spoken by one person in their own voice).

Perhaps it was on purpose? Needing to say something they intentionally decided to say nothing that could be easily interpreted. Wanting to cover over a contentious decision, they chose to hide behind complicated language.

Or, maybe it’s just a reflection of the culture of the organisation combined with a lack of empathy for the audience. By the way, those of us who think that Flip Video Cameras are lame and, anyway, everybody has a smartphone these days are making the exact same mistake – see the link below.

For those of you who want to avoid this sort of thing there are some simple things you can do: try looking somebody in the eye and reading your words out loud, and always remember that you can’t really hide, so you shouldn’t try.

PS If you’re interested, David Pogue writing in the New York Times has some more background on this decision. Reading that it’s hard not to conclude that it was not only poorly communicated strategy, but poorly considered strategy.