Where Does Clean Language Fit In The Business Ecosystem?

“How can Clean Language be used in the business world?” Nick Simmonds asked in an online forum.

“The same way it’s used wherever else there are human beings, to help people communicate better with themselves and each other,” is the flippant answer. But let’s get more specific.

I’ve done odd bits with large organisations, helping distributed teams to work better together using an adaptation of Caitlin‘s work. Some of my “Metaphor Mastery” students work in large organisations and apply what they’re learning in those contexts.

But more often, I find myself working with distributed project teams mainly made up of of freelances/associates; with independent change agents and consultants of all kinds; or occasionally with the founders of start-ups.

I think Clean Language is a natural fit here, more so than in large hierarchical organisations.

And it’s easy to forget that the freelance world is a part of the business world. Is that because we’re using outdated metaphors of business in our thinking, I wonder?

Freelances, in my experience, expect to take initiatives and make stuff happen for themselves, spurred on by their intrinsic motivation. They make informal alliances to bid for work, recognising the variety of different people’s skills – and contacts. They take responsibility for themselves and their results. They choose to connect or disconnect. They aren’t cogs in a machine, but active, organic agents in a rich ecosystem.

Similarly, in my work with the RSA’s London Reinventing Work Network, it’s become clear that enthusiasts for self-organisation, purpose-driven work, wholeness and authenticity love “ecosystem” metaphors, and kick vigorously against anything that hints of a “machine” metaphor.

What are the interesting things about ecosystems, compared with machines? Ecosystems don’t have rigid boundaries – in fact, they don’t have much that’s rigid at all. Change is constant; complexity is inevitable; consequences are unpredictable. Probe-sense-respond is the way forward, as per Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework.

And luckily enough, that’s how Clean Language works.

So, what if the business world is indeed an ecosystem? Then what happens to large organisations? And what is Clean Language’s ecological niche?

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