This morning I received an email begging me to sign up for ‘the penultimate [sic] in social media solutions.’ What luck! It arrived just as I was about to head out and pick up a loaf of bread and a quart of solutions. I was down to the penultimate slice of the former, and fresh out of the latter.
Am I alone, or does anyone else out there think this ‘solutions’ term is over-overused and under-understood? I had to go back to check, but it’s the twenty-sixth different email offering me some kind of ‘solution’ I’ve received just since the start of this decade… 24 days ago.
What is a ‘solution,’ anyway? I’ve been offered CRM solutions, Internet-based inventory solutions, electromagnetic solutions, sensor solutions, network solutions. I’ve been asked to ‘rely on the world’s most trusted solutions for business infrastructure virtualization,’ to ‘subscribe to custom systems solutions,’ to ‘sign up to the Microsoft home of online marketing solutions.’ Conjures up all these cute little ‘solutions’ wandering around, dressed in winter mittens, looking for adoptive homes. Trouble is, I have no idea what they’re selling at the Microsoft Home for Wayward Solutions.
So I force myself to dust off the OED, magnifying glass at the ready. Under ‘solution’ I find:
A homogeneous mixture of two or more substances, retaining its constitution, displaying no settling, and having various possible proportions of the constituents, which may be solids, liquids, gasses or inter-combinations.
A bucket of water with some Mr. Clean in it, for instance, is a solution.
And that’s the problem with the word. It sounds so pre-packaged, canned, one-size-fits-all, and facile that it implies the exact opposite of what its users think it does. It certainly doesn’t sound like the product of judgment, experience, skill and research. Just something you splash around to remove stains or kill the germs that cause bad breath.
To illustrate this last point: I swear, as I write this, I was interrupted by yet another email from someone purporting to be a ‘wine technology and marketing solution consultant.’ A consultant waiting to find a client that fits with their marketing solution… two parts buzz words, three parts hot air. I have half a mind to become a Marketing Problem Spotter. Sounds awful, I know, but at least people would know what I’m up to. Figuring out what’s wrong or missing — helping your clients identify their key problem, the one that’s actually holding their business back — is always harder than pouring some solution over everything, willy-nilly. (It’s also more rewarding for everyone involved.)
The word ‘solution’ as used in these emails simply confuses; it’s jargon at best, gibberish at worst. By itself, it solves — it means — nothing. Is that ‘solution’ they refer to in the header a website or a piece of hardware? Is it opinion or counsel? Is it software or a questionnaire? Or is it just the handiwork of a lazy brain, unwilling to decide what the ‘solution’ really is, or the compromises of a committee, undecided if what they’re selling is a computer or a new category or a note-taking solution?
The next time someone offers to sell me a solution, I’m going stop reading once I get to that word. If the word ‘answers’ doesn’t fit, and it’s not a blended liquid, please find another word. Then resend.
As my Swedish grandfather Svante used to say ‘uff da.’ Leave that word out of any emails you’re sending to me. Unless, of course, you are in fact sending me a solution. Free Woolite or mouthwash may not be glamorous, but at least it comes in handy every now and then.