De-jargoning education

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Jon Foster-Pedley | Dean and Director | Henley Business School Africa | mail me |


WE JUNK jargon, we kill clichés, we’re simple enough for clever people. Three simple concepts but ones that you’re going to be seeing a lot more of on billboards in and around Johannesburg soon. But they’re far more than that.

De-jargoning education isn’t an advertising campaign, it’s a real statement of intent. I speak from personal experience; I was a pilot once and pilots speak in jargon, as do doctors, lawyers – in fact any group of highly trained specialists who need to use jargon to convey complex information in a very precise and quick manner.

But when you start using it outside its proper context it becomes problematic on a number of different planes – especially when the intention is not to include but the opposite – to put a distance between the speaker and the listener. The first time I came across this was working with others in the aviation industry who had also done their MBA – my hogwash antennae quickly told me that a lot of the big words they were spouting was designed only to boost their perceived status and ego at the expense of everyone else around them, who might know less.

Business schools are redolent with jargon; finance, marketing – you only have to think of the 4 Ps or the five forces, the 6I or the 7S models, but the truth is these aren’t truths in and of themselves; they’re only frameworks of knowledge that help you to analyse situations. The more you apply them, the more you start critically thinking about them and what changes is your ability to make sense of the conundrum.

The very best teachers are those who take complex things and make them accessible to as many as possible; that doesn’t mean simplifying issues because often that’s just as bad as over complicating things. The holy grail is to simplify concepts to a point where they can be grasped and understood – very few people can do that.

So why the rush?

Why now? It’s simple, our country is in the throes of its worst crisis since emerging from apartheid, a crisis of bad government and bad business practice that was aided and abetted by our inability as a society to think critically about what happening. To prevent this recurring, we need to create a new cohort of leaders, not a new hyper-elite. Leaders who are exclusionary use language like a suit of armour to protect themselves. They make learning arcane and demonise critical thinking, creating a culture of confusion from where they can manipulate events to suit themselves. We know all about that, we’re still picking through the wreckage of state capture.

Learning occurs when we learn from the exceptions, not the unchallenged theory. When we say the exception proves the rule it doesn’t mean that the rule is proved right, it means it has been tested, just like a gun barrel is ‘proofed’ not to explode. We learn from exceptions that test the theory, not by blindly learning the theory. But how do you apply the theory if it’s cloaked in ominous terms and anchored in hecatombs of self-serving argument?

De-jargoning education is another of the movements we have introduced at Henley Business School Africa, like MBAid which we created to provide action learning for students immersing themselves in the work of NGOs re-engaging executives with grass roots and relevance while showing that business schools could be both a force for social good and incredibly relevant to their local communities. De-jargoning education is not intended in any way to trivialise education or undermine the richness of thought or valuable research, but rather to cut through the obscurantism that is often our greatest enemy.

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Read the full article by Jon Foster-Pedley, Dean and Director, Henley Business School Africa, as well as a host of other topical management articles written by professionals, consultants and academics in the August/September 2019 edition of BusinessBrief.


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