Don T Lean On Labels 643e9ae3f0f61

Control Report from Jim Montague: Don't lean on labels

April 18, 2023
Specifics and accurate definitions enable clearer thinking

Talk is always cheap, but never more so than now, when the supply is so huge due to ceaseless yammering on all sides. The added problem is that almost limitless digital storage creates a vacuum—much like the 24-hour news cycle—that sucks in more and more material just to fill space, regardless of how increasingly useless it is.

This situation makes it crucial to prioritize access points and input at the source. To set up perimeters for the data they gather, some process industry users are defining parameters based on problems they want to solve or benefits they want to gain. These boundaries can serve as filters to separate out useful data in the field, so users can perform better analytics onsite or in the cloud. This is a helpful strategy that can be used in many areas beyond process control.

Of course, the risk of prioritizing input is we may be too restrictive, and filter out some priceless piece of intelligence that could have added value of made another positive difference. Logically, better, more discriminating filters are needed that catch more potentially helpful data. In the case of incoming information, this means clearer and tighter definitions about what we’re seeking and what we want to keep out.

Likewise, when I’m researching and preparing for interviews, and I try take some added time to develop some really thoughtful questions. Even after many years, it’s still surprisingly difficult. This is because I’m not just probing for details. I’m trying to come up with questions that will spark the imaginations of the people I’m interviewing, allow them to blossom, and provides some experiences and advice for our readers that will help them improve how they do their jobs.

In my case, I’m usually trying to filter an endless flood of vague generalities, nebulous statements and other noise that makes uninteresting copy and boring stories. We’ve all seen statements like, “Cybersecurity is important, we should have more of it,” but no specifics about how to do it.

Besides being pointless, these vague statements do little or nothing to dispel ignorance and enlighten readers, and merely perpetuate fuzzy, disorganized and often fearful thinking. Sadly, this seems to be the point of some media outlets, which too often create or exacerbate crises to maintain attention and revenue—even if that attention is gained by deceit

For instance, many mainstream items use hyperbolic language like “torched” or “destroyed” to make themselves sound important, but all that happened was someone criticized someone else. Ho hum. Granted, they use active verbs, but nothing substantive occurred. Naturally, a vacuum will eat garbage if it’s all that’s available.

You can check for yourself. Even within the process industries, when you read a news item or another story, just ask yourself if anything really happened. I think eight or nine times out of 10, the answer is "not really."

Similarly, many of the hospitals and health systems I used to cover seemed to be constantly renaming their organizations apparently to justify their existences—even if it meant getting rid of name recognition their organizations spent decades building in the first place. Thankfully, there’s less of this pointless wheel-spinning in the process industries because they’re mostly focused on producing actual products that consumers depend on. Meanwhile, the press in general and trade journalism in particular produce increasingly less-solid products, and are already uncomfortably close to sketchy facilitators. Consequently, I try to self-check frequently, and ask myself if the stories and content I’m putting together are truly useful? I must admit that I don’t always past the test.

This is why precise definitions, labels, question, examples, experiences, lessons learned, advice and other news you can use are so important—not just for readers, listeners and viewers, but also for those producing them. They don’t just reach the truth. They enable clearer thinking, which helps individuals, organizations and communities get on the same page, decide which direction they want to move, and make real progress. 

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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