It came to my attention recently that NASA has an employee who enjoys the superb job title of planetary protection officer. I know it’s the style of this publication not to capitalise people’s titles, in most instances, but surely this is a job that simply screams out to be written in full caps: PLANETARY PROTECTION OFFICER!!! – with exclamation marks for good measure.
The reason NASA has such a person, incidentally, is that every time it launches something into space it’s positively teeming with microbial life, despite the best efforts of all concerned to sterilise everything before it leaves. NASA doesn’t want to infect other planets, but if it’s on the lookout for life in other places it also doesn’t want to have to waste time working out whether what it finds is local or imported, as it were.
A person’s job title speaks volumes about who they think they are and how their organisation sees them. The best ones, in my view, are simply descriptive, can be understood and, just as importantly, can be written easily: planetary protection officer.
The worst ones are squeezed out from the bowels of the HR department with little thought to helping describe the individual’s actual job. Take, for example, the chief investment officer, banking and financial services, office of the chief investment officer, wealth management. You can see the head of HR smiling with satisfaction after conjuring that one. It’s not a job title so much as directions to the person’s position on the (probably colour-coded) org chart. What it says on the tin really gives you little idea of what’s inside, or what it does.
While we’re here, the emerging trend of incorporating “ninja” into titles has to be stopped – now. You might as well describe yourself as “a dick”.
All of this is a hangover from the dotcom boom, I think, when people who really didn’t do anything, or if they did do something couldn’t explain what it was, invented titles that were designed to make them look cool or innovative or like they might be really important – and ideally, a combination of all three. I have met someone whose title is DGSD. I was right to think that she was too young to have won a medal in WWII, which is what I thought the initials stood for, and it turned out she was “director of getting shit done”. Google it, if you don’t believe me – lots of people seem to think this is a pretty neat title. I can’t even begin to imagine what that job entails but it can’t be pretty.
Most of the time, accuracy, brevity and transparency are to be applauded in business. Sometimes, though, it pays for what it says on the tin (or on the carton) to be misleading on purpose. A good recent example is the VanMoof bike company. Its bikes look pretty cool, if you’re into that sort of thing, and they’re smartly designed and packed with tech. The company set a target of selling 90 per cent of its bikes online by 2020, and as anyone who’s ever bought or sold anything online knows, a key part of the customer experience is having the goods arrive undamaged.
But VanMoof was finding that a large number of the cartons it shipped its bikes in were being dinged, ripped and generally getting bashed about like Marvis Frazier against Mike Tyson.
So it applied some lateral thinking.
It noticed that really big, flat-screen TVs generally were transported and delivered without being damaged, so what if the shipping companies thought they were shipping TVs rather than bikes? It printed big TVs on the outside of its cartons and bingo! Damage dropped by 80 per cent.