Your Correspondent in the Corporate Jungles

Subject: Your Correspondent in the Corporate Jungles
From: "Rankin, Cynthia" <crankin -at- AMERIX -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 10 Nov 1998 11:20:33 -0500

I was asked to write a letter to the undergrads in the Linguistic
Department. Thought you TW's might enjoy it.

Dateline: in the jungles of Columbia, October 5, 1998

Today, I take my tape recorder with new batteries and will go to obtain
raw data for my documentation. I will interview my first informant of
this tribe. I take with me my guide and translator, also called
business analyst, Rick. We will go into the uncharted territories of a
firm in Columbia, Maryland.

As a CPA, Rick understands the cultural values of the accounting tribe.
As a budding applications developer, he also speaks intermediate Geek,
an ambassador for our IT department. As any true ethnographer, he knows
how to describe one culture to another, using that culture's values and
symbols. He describes what he sees in numbers; as a technical
communicator, I describe what I see in words. Since both cultures use
the same words for the different meanings, I use Rick's symbols of
diagrams and flow charts. However, there are a myriad of diagrams to
match a particular culture--just look at Visio Professional software.
IT wants STD's or state transition diagrams. They want to document
action: the change of the object's state. Accounting wants flowcharts.
They want flowcharts which don't show the same movement but more detail.
Perhaps we will find a lingua-franca diagrams that they both will

I must understand the basic concept myself, learn both languages, write
the concept in both languages, reviewing and checking with the
informants (in technical writing terms called SME's or Subject Matter
Experts) that I have translated the concepts correctly. I find as any
other ethnographer that reducing everything to Plain English is the best
mode of communication in a multi-cultural society.

I am also in the midst of an oral culture where little has been written
down. It is my job to document this culture so it can go on after the
original members have passed. In the IT tribe, the slaves must produce
software so quickly that most communication among the slaves has been
oral. If one of the slaves is traded, so goes their story. Their story
might be about how an important software was built. Their story must be
recorded for posterity of the tribe and culture.

Intercultural Communications does not mean you need a passport. Because
the corporate world is so specialized, each department becomes
entrenched in their own jargon and forgets how to communicate to the
other. In this high-rise tower of babel, a business analyst or technical
communicator may be one of the few people in the company who deals with
all of the departments for benign reasons: non-threatening so the
natives are comfortable to share what they do and what they think.

Right now I am a senior technical writer or technical communicator. But
I can see the day when company executives will hire intercultural
communicators just to know what is going on in their own firm. For each
department becomes their own country. Remember Latin?

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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