End Your Business Journey, Please

How you approach your business may be shaped by the language you use to describe it — and that could trip you up.

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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.

Why?

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.

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Comments (3)
PAUL M KONNERSMAN
Thank you David for your plea (which I echo) to “End Your Business Journey, Please!” This metaphoric use of “journey” has become an irritating cliche, frequently indicative of fuzzy or vacuous thinking. It does, unfortunately, have plenty of competitors such as “team” referring to any group of “associates” that might a paycheck from the same entity. Then there’s “excellence,” “alignment” and “drive.” If I were a bit clever, I should be able to weave all of those words into a single sentence.

In our journey to excellence each associate must not only give his or her all, but align his or her effort with our mission and values statements, thereby becoming a true team that is capable of real teamwork.
Ed Marsh
Kind of a fun read - and always worth fomenting challenge "common wisdom."

However it feels like this misses the most important implication of the "journey" analogy which isn't part of the "managers' trifecta."

It's a contrast with completion and destination - and it connotes that there is no endpoint.

That's an exhausting concept to internalize - that no matter how hard we work, we'll never finish.

Perhaps it's most powerful role, therefore, is as a euphemism that allows us to sidestep the reality of relentless change and work.
Gus Garfield
Alas, the journey of “journey” is complete.  How shall we continue to describe the never-ending (and ever-exciting) movement to the future?  The word “roadmap” is handy -evocative, yet familiar.  But it too much of the world of things.   Perhaps we can repurpose “trek” or “pilgrimage”?  …or perhaps not.  Depending on the day, I may liken the effort to “schlep” but that has the wrong connotation for our purpose.  I think we are faced with the choice (opportunity?) to reframe - cultivation?