You Know Sometimes Words Have Two Meanings

Some time ago, I was at a meeting that should never have existed. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the importance of “face time”, but face-to-face meetings should be about discussion, and collaboration, and this meeting had none of that. Worse yet, the entire point of the meeting could be summed up in one slightly long sentence: “The Final Policy Statement on such-and-such, which you were previously instructed to adopt and comply with by the end of the month, will not be issued on time, therefore we are remaining with the existing Interim Policy until further notice, and the assigned transition deadlines have been postponed indefinitely.” It should have been a memo, not a meeting, but there we were…

Worse yet, the person running the meeting was a big believer in the trendy-management-book-of-the-month-club, and believed that an important metric of the “success” of a meeting was the degree of attendee participation. So, after making the announcement, they asked if anyone had any questions, which of course nobody did. So, desperately, they added “Nobody has a question? About anything? Even unrelated to this announcement?” And that’s when it happened: “I have a question, actually,” I said, “which perhaps someone here can answer.” Go ahead, I was told, gratefully. So, I did…

“Most of us here are old enough to remember the Soviet Union,” I began, “or more properly the USSR – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the people of which were always referred to as “Soviets”. I understand what a union is, and a republic, and I know what socialism is… but what does “Soviet” mean, exactly?”

Do you know? Not many people do; it’s one of those things we just sort of take for granted, without ever really examining too closely. I didn’t know, and neither did anyone at that meeting, which broke up a few moments later as a bunch of embarrassed people suddenly remembered other places they had to be.

As it turns out, “soviet” means a type of council or meeting… which doesn’t exactly explain why we called the citizens themselves “Soviets”, but that’s probably a story for another day.

The moral of the story: never ask for random questions at a pointless meeting… and never be afraid to challenge assumptions, even big ones.

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General, History | on November 17th, 2008| Comments Off on You Know Sometimes Words Have Two Meanings

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