When I was a junior engineer, years ago at Lockheed, I had a great senior architect who I looked up to. One time, we were heading into a meeting with several very senior directors, and he leaned over to me as we walked in, and he told me to pay attention to his acronyms that day. He proceeded to begin his presentation (I don’t remember the topic), and he kept referring to GBLs and RBLs throughout the meeting. I didn’t know those acronyms, but this was a pretty senior group of people, so I wrote them down in my notebook in the margin to ask him later.
After the meeting, after we left, I asked him about GBLs and RBLs, and he laughed and explained that people, especially leaders, are often afraid to ask questions because they are afraid to look uninformed. He made up the Green Blinkey Lights (GBLs) and Red Blinkey Lights (RBLs) acronyms to make the point that people preferred to look smart than understand what was going on. I often remember this and try to proactively (when appropriate) ask what something or research it before the next meeting.
Great reminder – I have heard this concept referred to as “mutual mystification.” While people do not want to feel silly by asking, they remember that you made them feel stupid. There are consequences.
Tom, I haven’t heard the phrase “mutual mystification” — that’s another great way to identify it!