Water leaks, not earthquakes

Semantics are among the most underrated sources for insight.

Systematic disregard for semantics is what leads us to buzzwords, confusing meetings, confusing objectives and therefore confusing strategies. The invention of language served a single purpose: to make sure we all felt understood and could understand others. Semantics, in that sense, is not the main conversation, but what helps us read between the lines.

Take for instance browsing and searching. At first, they seem similar activities. If we read between the lines, we might notice some subtle but important differences.

Browsing is typically more passive. Sure, we're actively browsing, but the point of browsing is to explore and maybe find something interesting. In short, "I'm just looking" but at some point "surprise me!"

Searching is more active. We search based on a previously defined objective. We're not "just searching", we're "searching for something" and the sooner we get it the better (or as Tim O'Reilly put, engagement and retention aren't always the point).

Subtle differences can deliver the most powerful shifts in interpretation. Rob Campbell, Head of Planning at Wieden+Kennedy in China, uses non-conventional planning methods to gather insights from people who are radically different from him and his team. The point isn't to get radically different insights from radically different people. The point is to hunt for their subtleties of interpretation that can make a massive difference.

Tweaking our interpretations can go a long way in producing groundbreaking work. But there are many ways to start cracking the ground. We often aim to create an earthquake and just get it over with, but we should never underestimate the power of a water leak.