guest column:Lawrence Kamwi

Namibia went to the polls last Wednesday. A potential 717 809 women and 640 659 men were expected to vote. The run-up to the elections once more showed the immensity of the task of running a poll.

Using results of a mini-survey in August this year, Ofer Berenstein of the University of Calgary, spent time looking at how people should be encouraged to vote. He notes that, despite a cumulative increase of nearly 10% in voter turnout in Canadian federal elections between 2008 and 2015, it is possible that “governments are being formed with the support of a minority of the population.”

“One possible way to increase turnout is non-partisan campaigns to encourage people to vote,” he says.

He also says the group of people he calls non-habitual voters will only react positively to the invitation to vote if they are given “open-ended questions that invite them to think and discuss matters on their own terms.”

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I still found his essay tame when compared to the bombast language associated with American elections. I have heard phrases like ‘prosecutorial passion,’ the ‘manic idealisation of party positions,’ the ‘casserole of deceit, and stew of mendacity,’ and ‘election-year excavations of character.’

But I digress. I wanted to write about crystal balls and other fortune-telling paraphernalia; obviously, old-time, esoteric subjects. A friend suggested instead that I should look at more contemporary methods of prediction.

Apparently, management and leadership publications are today’s crystal balls. Both local and external bulletins have eagle-eye and consistent focus on political, economic, social, and other seismic events, that can help in spotting or predicting long-term trends.

The chief scientist and vice-president of the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Research (CABER) Evan Sinar recently dedicated his time to studying 50 years of publishing by one of the world’s leading business journals.

His study looked at over 8 000 article titles written between January 1967 and June 2018.

While Sinar briefly looks back at terms from the past half-century of business topic trends, his final push is to “identify and discuss the terms with the strongest upward trajectory into and through the present day.”

He divides his study into ‘declining-focus terms,’ ‘increasing-focus terms,’ and ‘nuanced/stable-focus terms.’ He describes the nuanced/stable-focus group as “three terms showing either consistent interest or a relationship that doesn’t uniformly trend up or down, in some cases due to varying conceptualisations of the terms over time.”

At the simple level, one can think of consult, which can mean either to offer advice or to receive it. Garnish can relate to decorating or embellishing food. But it can alternatively give notice for the purpose of legally seizing money belonging to a debtor or defendant. Finally, depending on the speaker’s perspective, sanction denotes both approval or boycott.

Michael Brackett writes that “information technology in general, and data resource management in particular, have a major lexical challenge. Words and terms are created, often used interchangeably, misused, abused, corrupted and discarded without regard to the real meaning or any impact on the business. As a result, the data management profession today is lexically weak.”

Brackett gives his readers a rude awakening. “The promoter of a business said that their business operated 24-7-365. I thought about that for a minute and wondered if he really meant their business would be around for seven years. I’m sure he really meant either 24-365 or 24-7-52.”

One of the noticeable declining-focus terms is management. Sinar suggests that “one possible reason is a broader perspective on sources of business value than solely a company’s management structure. In particular, ‘leadership’ and ‘innovation’ became at the start of the 2000s and beyond the much more prominent article topics alongside the decline of management.”

The other unmissable decline is the use of ‘product.’ Sinar believes this is reflective of a “reorientation to customer-in rather than product and services-out views of a company’s market presence.”

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin famously states that “this is marketing done right. Marketing where the marketer changes the product, not the ads.”

The seven terms that have “increased substantially across the 50-year period” include leadership and innovation – as already highlighted — team, women, customer, data and CEO.

“How to Pre-empt Team Conflict” has become one of the most-read articles over the years. Customers may “reflect stronger awareness of the external forces shaping a company’s success in generating market value, and the costly consequences of neglecting customer and end-user views.”

The article finally tackles the “steeply-increasing business terms through 2018.” CEO, which has been used to refer to country leaders as well, is on the ascendancy. Sinar says the other words to watch out for are problems, culture, growth, diversity, risk, agile and digital.

“As business risks – often stemming from political, social and technological forces – escalate, high-profile examples of missteps and mitigation strategies gain new heights of visibility. This in turn generates fear, awareness, and prioritisation for risk management as a corporate imperative.”