The word ‘translation’ comes, etymologically, from the Latin for ‘bearing across’. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.- Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991
More than five years of my career in banking can be explained by the phrase ‘he is a banker but he speaks wealth management’. I focused on translation because I was lateral hire into banking and hence an outsider to both cultures. The differences in language and mindset were visible to me. There were all kinds of little shibboleths to distinguish the two businesses. The most common of these distinguishing pieces of language was that the bank had customers and wealth management had advisors and clients.
Keen to learn about the new businesses I became a keen student of jargon and business models. Knowing the language helped build trust and connection. The ability to collaborate across a language boundary made for all sorts of opportunities.
Understanding someone’s mindset and language is an important part of any collaboration. Network Navigators need the capability to speak the local language. Collaboration must be founded on a shared context and effective communication. To collaborate we need to make sense of each other’s purposes, concerns and actions. When there are strong cultures or silos, a translator may be required to help create that common context.
A great deal is lost in organisations when there are not translators able to surface knowledge or opportunities trapped in silos. There are many areas where different languages and mindsets can breakdown collaboration: sales vs marketing, product vs engineering, subsidiary vs corporate, management vs workers, etc. Translators must have practice working across these boundaries, surfacing, sharing and working together on opportunities.
To leverage the knowledge and capabilities of your organisation you will need translators. Do you know who is working these boundaries? What are you doing to give them a larger voice and influence?
A small investment in fostering the work of translators may reap great rewards in collaboration and new opportunities for your organisation. Critically, the work of translators is also a great way to spread connection, collaboration and shared context
You choose your philosophy of translation just as you choose how to live: the free adaptation that sacrifices detail to meaning, the strict crib that sacrifices meaning to exactitude. The poet moves from life to language, the translator moves from language to life; both like the immigrant, try to identify the invisible, what’s between the lines, the mysterious implications. – Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces