Turn your ‘landing’ lights on

There’s a new bit of jargon that seems to be having its 15 minutes of fame at the moment. It’s the word ‘land’:

‘That idea really landed well.’
‘We need to make sure our project lands.’
‘This initiative just isn’t landing.’

Superficially, what’s not to like? It’s a fine Old English word (which conjures up synonyms like ‘ground’, ‘earth’, ‘homeland’ and other down-to-earth expressions like ‘being safe on dry land’ and whatnot). There’s also an implicit sense of some kind of journey: your project ‘takes off’, then it ‘cruises along’, and finally it’ll need to ‘land’. And everybody likes a journey metaphor, don’t they?

But like most bits of corporate jargon, while it sounds precise and solid, it’s actually rather slippery. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps it’s because it’s a word that lends itself to deflecting responsibility: ‘the idea hasn’t landed’ or ‘the initiative didn’t land’. Both of which help give the impression that the success or not of the ‘landing’ was probably something to do with the initiative itself, or was perhaps in the lap of the gods. Compare that to the word ‘embed’ – which has similar connotations of making something ‘stick’ or ‘take hold’. If you use embed like this you get ‘the idea hasn’t embedded’ or ‘the initiative didn’t embed’. Now it might be just me, but in those contexts the word ‘embed’ draws attention to itself, instantly making you think: ‘Yeah – but embedding doesn’t just happen by itself. Who was responsible for that, eh?’ (Grammarians might say it’s something to do with how ‘land’ works well in the context of passive sentence structures, and as an intransitive verb.)

And I’ve been in two meetings this month where clients have talked about their ‘ideas not landing’. Initial discussions about the big reasons behind this failure to land eventually got round to the truth – which was more like ‘we didn’t explain our ideas in a way that people could understand’, or even ‘people just didn’t “get” what we were saying’.

In both cases, the problem was a language one: the ideas needed explaining in a simpler way, or in language appropriate to the audience. Or they needed bringing to life with stories or examples.

So, next time you hear something hasn’t landed, check: is it really that there’s some complicated process problem — or is it just that something needs explaining better?

comments powered by Disqus