Sometimes in business – wait – most times in business, we talk pass each other.
The other day, I had this very experience in a meeting. We were discussing a business model and labeled the model with a well-known term but, it turns out, we understood the term differently. It was very apparent: as one person used the term, another person would respond with confusion or argument.
We were talking passed each other.
The Need for Operational Definitions
Operational Definitions help us to understand terms the same way and thereby we can discuss them with the same “mental apparatus.” This is especially true with data collection.
An operational definition, when applied to data collection, is a clear, concise detailed definition of a measure. The need for operational definitions is fundamental when collecting all types of data. It is particularly important when a decision is being made about whether something is correct or incorrect, or when a visual check is being made where there is room for confusion.
I remember an anecdotal story, as told by a former professor, regarding the definition of Diabetes. My professor explained that “Diabetes” was defined more narrowly for many decades until in the late 1970’s when the definition changed – the definition became broader.
A run chart he showed described Diabetes incidents in the United States skyrocket in the 1970’s – all because of a change in definition.
Yes, how we define and understand words and concepts matter.
For your enjoyment, here’s an amazon.com review that shows how language and our understanding of operational definitions matter:
When i first come to America, my english did cause me problems. In Soviet Russia i was strong teacher, my english i know is the best in all of Petropavlovsk. My brother, Mikhail, he say to me, “Nikolai you go to America, they make you rich like czar, take many woman as lover, kill many bear”.
My brother, he is very wise, is greatest toymaker in all of Russia. So next day i wake up, sell my house, say goodbye to wife and children, and go to America to become millionaire. Then in America, I go to job interview and they say to me “Nikolai, you are not for the job here, you are not the skills we need, your english is poor like child”. I take that man and smash his table, i say “someday i will be greatest man in all of country, your children will wish me their father!”. That day my anger is best of me.
It is then i know i must learn better english, so i buy book “English Grammer it is for Dummies” by Mr.Woods. Now i am perfect english grammer! I write letter to Mikhail, he write back “Nikolai, your english is like a god, you will be millionaire soon! all of Petropavlovsk is proud for you! good luck brother! please send letter when you are president or maybe even czar! Hahaha! also, your wife is killed by bear”. So i say thanks to Mr.Woods for his book!
When i am czar your family will be spared! Hahahaha! (is joke).