An Out-of-the-box Experience: Same Words, Opposite Meanings.


Several years ago, during a regular status call, I listened to the director of sales talking with the director of development about a new product she was envisioning. “Customers are looking for a real out-of-the-box experience,” she said.  The director of development noted this in his Moleskin.  “Out of the box,” he repeated.

As we wrapped up the meeting, I asked the sales director and the development director what “out of the box” meant to each of them.

To the sales director it meant an astounding idea that that was beyond expectation.  To the director of development it meant a product that, literally, came out of a box, ready to use.

Same words, opposite meanings.

Not long ago, I was involved in rebuilding the publishing systems for a major niche news organization.  Part of what attracted us to the system we chose was that sites could be based on pre-built templates so we could build lots of sites fast.  The development group and the business group agreed that templates are a good thing and we deployed the system.

Soon thereafter, the business office presented the template they wanted to use for the very first project. It came in the form of a link to a site they wanted to mimic.  “Follow this template,” they said.

To the business team, a template is a design, a general idea, a model to follow.

To the development team, a template is a very specific construction with 80% of the coding already done.

Same word.  Virtually the opposite meaning.

These are not isolated incidents.  They happen all the time in this field.  It wastes time and it wastes energy.  I think it’s incumbent upon all of us involved in technology businesses to be vigilant of words we think are clear but in fact are the opposite of we mean.

After all, it’s language that built civilization.

Have you run into the same thing?  What can we do about it?