Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rectifications (15) – Value add1…and value for money.

Rectifications (15) – Value add1…and value for money.

Torrey Orton2– September 9, 2009

I remember the first time I heard this expression, rather than reading it. About 8 years ago I was sitting in a meeting of negotiation specialists. The expression is among the most self-announcing spin of them all. It proposes that the speaker will add something to the value you should normally expect of him/her, which they have been withholding from you all the time of your previous relating about whatever they offer as value to you! Consequently, it has the ring of a car salesman looking for a purchase from a naïf of country origin…second class second-hand car sales at that. As if the 'add' would make up for the missing value in the original.

I think this was my first conscious awareness of the pervasive encroachment of spinspeak on ordinary discourse. The speaker in question was a relatively new member of a professional development network. I was an elder member of that group. While I'd heard the expression before in print I'd never heard a real person say it in pursuit of a real agenda. In this case, it was a marketing natter among fellow travellers. The first shock was that the speaker in question was a thoroughly decent guy with an eye for the straight spoken and an ear for irony. How could someone speak such trash ('value add') and be sensible? It was my first exposure to the creep of cultural change upon us.

My second shock was that people actually used this language as if it referred to realities. It does, of course! Confected ones, which make things appear to be present which were always present but not visible (in their product / service offer). And there were some additions made which might be considered iterations or improvements but now could be introduced with a better frame – the value add. This is conceptualisation of the 'make a difference' genre. They depend on creating an assumption – namely, that there is now something which there wasn't before; we have advanced, moved forward, made progress and …They have that wonderful mixture of abstract and concrete which attracts attention and deflects examination.

Spread of linguistic innovation

How does this come to be the case? How do linguistic (and maybe other) innovations spread once they have arisen? It is probably a process as close to the behaviourist learning fantasy as is to be found. Repetition is key. So, early and repeat exposure of the novelty in commonly used information media is a good start. Then placement in video forms from news to TV shows to movies is helpful. Such instances provide two major opportunities: (1) to see where it should be used, the appropriate contexts; (2) to see how it should be used as a complete behaviour – sound, pace, rhythm, and visualisations face and whole of body expression; and, (3) to motivate its use by providing a positive emotional anchor in the watcher's experience repertoire.


The ubiquitous teenage dismissal 'whateva' comes to mind, a repeat performance in the small dramas of life that has spread across the generations as emblem of the disconnectedness of our times. Is this spread the process through which memes proliferate at somewhat slower speeds? The correct emergence of memes must depend on the development of a broad base of linguistic support, failing which they cannot have a world of new meaning to attach themselves to, grow out of, take root in – choose the development imagery of your choice.

The recent upsurge in adult use of the Homeric "Duh" or "Doh" depending on whose transcript you read of The Simpsons is a case in point with another point lurking in it. The lurker is that fashions repeat. The Homeric had a life in the late Fifties – my teendom – where it appeared as the snide remark of choice for the young's appreciation of our peers' and the generationally compromised (our parents, teachers and such) shortage of intelligence appropriate to any specific circumstance…for not being with it, hip, cool and so on, to whatever passes for the same now.

This effect over time may be another optimystical, too. My failure to see it as such now – the implicit hopefulness in the face of exemplary hopelessness and despair – may be generational or ageing related or just my lack of primary conceptual neurons from the beginning.


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2 Acknowledgment of interest – I am a practicing psychotherapist with a client load around 25 per week, registered with Medicare and a half dozen private health insurers in Australia.

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