Acronyms – the practice of abbreviating words or short phrases using the initial letters of each word – have been around hundreds or thousands of years, depending on who you believe. As often happens, there are multiple sources on the Internet about the origin and early use of acronyms, and none of them agree. One thing they do agree on is that acronyms didn’t gain widespread use until the 20th century.
These days, it’s hard to imagine our language without them. In fact, social media platforms and cell phone texting have turned acronyms into an art form – with so many of them embedded in the current lexicon that we need websites like urbandictionary.com to help us keep up.
Acronyms can be quite useful when we’re all RTFing (see below). They’re short and to the point. They often make us LOL. They’re instantly recognizable. And there’s never TMI. When you use an acronym, everyone instantly knows what you mean.
In the business world, we seem to specialize in three-letter acronyms, or TLAs. The only problem is many of them aren’t helpful. Do you recognize some of these? Have you heard them in your organization?
- DHT (don’t have time)
- RTF (running too fast)
- RIM (regulatory induced mediocrity, usually masquerades as “regulators won’t let us”)
- SOS (same old stuff)
- WOT (waste of time)
- NAH (not around here)
- TTO (tried that once)
- TWLU (they won’t let us) – this one gets bonus points for being 4 letters
Notice how they’re all negative? Suppose you’re in a meeting and someone comes up with an idea for changing a work process that might get things done quicker and more efficiently. Obviously, it will take time to explore the idea and evaluate its potential. However, rather than invest the time in something that might benefit the organization, some folks will pipe up with DHT or NAH. Everyone laughs, but it’s not really funny.
The problem with these TLAs is they often shut down conversation and stop us from truly thinking. They also discourage people from bringing up new ideas in the first place. Worse, TLAs tend to engender knee-jerk reactions. We hear them and immediately shut down any real consideration of the idea being proposed. When a business starts running out of new ideas and fresh perspectives, it has just punched its ticket to oblivion.
To avoid a one-way ticket to the corporate graveyard, we need to challenge the use of TLAs in our organizations and how we react to them. Any time we hear a TLA – from ourselves or others – we should pause for a moment to pay attention to our thoughts and the “comfort corridors” our brains tend to travel. During this pause, we should ask ourselves a few questions:
- Why am I so quick to accept this TLA as the status quo?
- Is it accurate?
- Have things changed that make this TLA no longer true for us?
- Should I update my thinking?
- What if we could…?
The Brain’s Favorite Acronym
Believe it or not, our brains have a preferred acronym. It’s called MSU, and it’s what happens when we don’t have all the information. MSU stands for making s#*t up (or making “stuff” up, for the more genteel). It’s is a direct result of the way our brains like to operate, and we’re all incredibly good at it!
Our brain likes to solve problems, and it doesn’t like uncertainty. So when we don’t have all the information, it takes the initiative by filling in the blanks. That way, it can get back to its comfort zone by thinking it knows everything. Unfortunately, most of what we MSU is negative. Here’s an example:
Your boss stops by your desk and says, “I need to see you in my office today at 3:00 please” with no explanation of why. Do you start immediately thinking, “Yippee! I’m going to get a raise!”? Do you start patting yourself on the back, thinking she’s probably going to congratulate you on the great job you did on that last project? Probably not.
Most people start worrying about whether they messed up on something important, are about to get fired, or some other negative event. Some people have trained themselves to think positive. But for most, MSU causes the brain to automatically default to negative thinking.
From Negative to Positive – GBG!
The problem with MSUs is they create actions that create pathways in the brain. These pathways become comfortable, and we stick with them even if they are not the most efficient, effective, or productive ones.
The best way to counteract MSUs is by pausing to examine your underlying assumptions and beliefs that are causing the negative thinking. It also helps to replace the limiting TLA’s you may be telling yourself with my favorite TLA – GBG (go brain go!). This will give your brain permission to shift from negative to positive while creating just enough space to thunk a new thunk, try a new approach, ponder a possibility, and be even more incredible!