Why can’t we talk the same language, when it’s so important?

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readApr 27, 2022

For change, management, innovation – for all our futures.

You should listen to this 70-minute work-through of a US council meeting – in Springfield Massachusetts – with a commentary from Charles Marohn of Strong Towns.

link (audio one third down) https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2021/12/13/two-different-languages

transcript https://otter.ai/u/n6-YvQZRj8iQkvfN6vva_HERhTY

Why on earth would you spend over an hour of your life listening to excerpts from a council meeting with commentary from a campaigning engineer?

Politicians and townsfolk want answers to a problem: people are reliably and predictably getting killed on State Street. That system is broken. And the system of investigating remediation, deciding options, implementing... isn't fixing it. That's broken too.

Spring Street, MA (Google Maps, retrieved 2022–04–27)

You should listen because it’s really important on several levels:
- it’s important because the design of our streets and towns is critical to road safety

- it’s also critical for the future of our environment, economic success, and human thriving

More than all of that, though, it’s vital we understand the fundamental problem here.

We all embed ourselves in a way of thinking, a way of working - it's fundamental, in this case to the whole purpose and process of being ‘an engineer’.

In this case, following another tragic (but entirely predictable) death, the engineers are extremely keen to follow their processes and take action.

And the public are making the point that this is *exactly* the same response that has happened time and time again before.

Taking the demands for change into the world of the engineer and making sense of it, makes it mean something fundamentally different from what the public want.

The engineers, communicating from out of their world, can’t understand (or can only explain in ungenerous, frustrated, alienating terms) why the public can’t understand the way things have to be.

The public understand that the engineers have obligations and expertise and advice – but don’t understand why nothing can fundamentally change, when fundamental change is fundamentally needed.

And the tragedy is that the engineers’ expertise is needed – but it is being blocked from engaging with the real world by the very framework which allows it to be useful.

This happens all. The. Time.

Consultants and organisations.
‘Systems thinkers’ and the world.
Climate crisis.
‘Peace’ ‘negotiations’.

Is this problem solvable?