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Many managers describe the pursuit of important business activities as a “journey.” But the term is used too often, for too many things. It’s losing punch. It’s getting tired. It’s time to end the journey.
Where We’ve Been
Let’s reconnect with the roots of “journey.” The term originally comes from the Old French, journée, meaning a day’s travel or work. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines journey as travel from one place to another. One of the most famous journeys is that of Odysseus, who traveled from place to place on his way home to the Greek city of Ithaca after the Trojan War. If your journey is big enough or epic enough, it becomes an odyssey.
Of course, “odyssey” hasn’t caught on among managers, perhaps for good reason. After all, “odyssey” is, well, a weird word — nothing against Homer. It sounds a little odd, and not just because it starts with the sound “odd.” It also suggests something that’s really long term, carries great uncertainty and risk, and may not end well. Just look at how many people made it back to Ithaca with Odysseus. And not to pile on the cultural references, but many associate the word with a malevolent form of artificial intelligence named HAL. That doesn’t help. So let’s give credit where credit is due: Managers very reasonably use “journey” rather than “odyssey.”
Even so, “journey” has become a one-size-fits-all sort of word that gets applied to the pursuit of virtually any business goal. Not sure if “journey” is overused? These references barely touch on the many ways companies are journeying toward some corporate goal.
- SoftBank is on a journey to become “the No. 1 core company in mobile internet.”
- Caterpillar is on a journey to make autonomous mining a reality.
- Walmart is on a 10-year sustainability journey.
- Gannett is on a journey “as a forward-thinking and innovative media company,” says its president and CEO, Bob Dickey.
- Good governance? That’s a journey. “McDonald’s Board believes that good governance is a journey, not a destination.”
- Writing an annual report? That’s a journey, too. “Businesses and those who run them, investors and other stakeholders, accountants, and regulators are all on a journey to find the right assurance over the right information,” asserts The Institute of Chartered Accountants.
- Strategy? Yep, you guessed it: A journey.
- Operations? Improving processes? Companies are on journeys for that, too.