The Treachery of Language

December 24, 2013 by Wally Bock

I was reading David Jardin’s post, “Why You Really Need to Start Treating Talent Like Assets” when I came across the following.

“When it comes down to it, companies treat talent as either assets or expenses.”

Jardin’s point is that people are assets in the sense that you invest in them. They are sources of profit, not expenses. I agree with that. But I think there’s a deeper issue here.

People are not expenses or assets or talent. They’re people with all the messy human stuff that people bring. It’s the same as with Magritte’s famous pipe.

That pipe is the subject of a painting that Rene Magritte completed in 1929. Under the picture of the pipe is the inscription: “This is not a pipe.” As the painter himself said, later: “could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not?”

Magritte called the painting, “The Treachery of Images.” When we use words like “talent” and “assets” to describe people, we run the risk of treating them like physical assets or disembodied talent and not like people.

That’s dangerous because the things that make people a sure source of sustainable competitive advantage are the very things that make them human. Only people have passion and creativity. Assets do not. Talent does not.

When we starting thinking of people using the words and thought patterns we use for physical assets, we start down the slippery slope toward treating people like physical assets. But people are not interchangeable and easily replaceable. Each one is unique.

Think of people as people. Use people language. And reap the rewards.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

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