People often use common words in common ways. The goal is frequently understandable and quick communications. Technical terms, representing complex actions in processes, are an example. People also assemble words to create common phrases.
Reusing or revising form letters are large-scale examples of word assembling. Memorizing definitions and regurgitating reading materials are others. Analogously, it’s akin to programmers assembling packages of code rather than writing each line of code or builders assembling parts of houses rather than building each part.
I began to think about thoughtless word assembling when I created a presentation for a national sales manager. He liked the word “dynamic” very much. On one slide I incorporated it by using “dynamism,” the noun of dynamic. When he came to it, he didn’t know what it meant. A similar result occurred when I wrote “perspectival change” rather than “change of perspective.”
The implications of this to vanilla thinking hit me when I commented an executive was smart because of an idea she discussed. My listener, then asked, “How do you know she didn’t just regurgitate what she read in some book?” Related more simply, consider a little girl who knew the name of every dinosaur in a book, impressive yes but does she really understand anything about them? The same holds true for the adult. She regurgitated the idea but did she understand it?
Thus, the common phrasing habits that standardization, efficiencies and processes enforce can encourage us to communicate without really contemplating or understanding the ideas behind what we’ve said. These habits also force the assumption on us that people understand the ideas behind their words. Vanilla phrasing happens throughout organizations’ hierarchies.
In short, vanilla phrasing allows us to use vanilla thinking to discuss vanilla ideas. How creative, innovative and interesting will this make us?