Schlagwort-Archive: Meaning

There is no meaning per se

Meaning is always arising through the conscious processing of words that someone disseminates. The scope used to be limited to people in the immediate vicinity. As a result, content was always surrounded by comprehensible cultural, linguistic and social context that made understanding easier. For centuries, the mass media have provided words from expert publicist to an ever-growing audience – via press, radio and TV. This led to a unified language and a press code that is committed to truth, reliability, and human dignity. At the same time, the art of interpreting content in a twisted way evolved, in order to manipulate the audience’s formation of opinion.
Through the Internet it is now again possible to exchange thoughts directly from one to the other without expert brokers – however, limited to the words used, which are internalized without additional context information as well as without hints on purposeful influence. As recipients of vast amounts of news, we assume that these messages mean exactly what we understand.

It is based on the fallacy of thinking that sentences and words mean something unambiguous. Perhaps we should be aware of the features of statements. This article deals only with written and spoken language – not pictorial representations. For the sake of simplicity, we speak of speakers and listeners, which also include writers and readers.

  • A collection of words
    Language delivers a series of words, which, more or less, follow grammatical rules. The speaker chooses the expressions from its vocabulary, with a little luck oriented towards its target group – the appropriate national language and an appropriate jargon. The audience receives the words and understands the meaning through their own language skills. The general assumption is that this leads to a far-reaching overlapping of meanings, which is very unlikely.
  • A variety of intentions
    Each statement always contains several intentions: 1) Say what is; 2) Urge to (or not to) do something; 3) Disclose, to (or not to) do something; 4) Share, how you are feeling; 5) Announce, what applies. All this is in one sentence and is noticed according to the interest of the listeners. The following statement is drawn arbitrarily from the stream of news: A denies that B has two things: Experience and charisma. What does this include: 1) B lacks experience and charisma. 2) B is not acceptable. 3) A does not accept B. 4) A does not feel well with B. 5) B will not get it. Scan any sentence for the included messages.
  • Infelicity of the expression
    A statement can be made with different words. And sometimes you get carried away with an awkward wording. Example is the statement „Reconcile the social with the national“. Despite the changed word order you become aware of the double sense. With the amount of other words one could have used, the question arises, to what extent this happened intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Who knows, what it actually meant
    The message behind the words is not always clear, even with a conscious word choice. A statement can be meant as it is said. However, something can also be expressed without meaning it. Quickly, something is expressed that is meant differently. It is particularly frustrating, when you say something and nobody understands what was in your mind. For these reasons, an open, reciprocal discourse, with questions and answers, is always preferable to a one-sided proclamation.

Bottom line: There is reason to fear that there is no longer a common basis for expressing universally accepted facts. The real meaning lies in the eye of the beholder and its own opportunistic interpretation. Although the speaker thinks that it can control this, it is the listener, who processes the content and intention of an utterance. Today, all those, who have access to the Internet, can easily publish. This exacerbates the situation that opinions come into the world that deserves to be called alternative facts. The background is unknown and the contents are adopted uncritically. The fact checkers don’t help here. Direct exchange on the Internet is a new form of conversation, in which opinions are exchanged. In the interest of the freedom of expression, this must be allowed, even if the content is available worldwide without delay and reaches directly immediately vast numbers of people. We must learn to distinguish between personal statements and expert publications, as in everyday street conversations – even, if the differences are difficult to perceive. It is worth taking a look at the imprint of the publicists. There, a part of the context becomes visible or obscured and one recognizes who you are dealing with or not. If the imprint, the names of the authors, the address and the telephone number are missing, or if the contact address is a Freemail, or if the responsibilities are located abroad, the contents are questionable. In any case, there is simply no meaning per se.

Stable with rituals

Heraclitus had already explained two and a half thousand years ago that one cannot step into the same river twice. His Panta rhei (πάντα ῥεῖ) made us aware of the fact that the only constant is change. Our day is permeated by rituals. In addition to the morning coffee and evenly spread smoking breaks, there are business rituals that get you through the day, week, month and year – the morning meeting (nowadays Daily Stand-up), planning, budget, project and report meetings, as well as annual performance assessment, fireside chat, team development and so on. These rituals create stability in the hyper-accelerated VUCA world and prevent you from being torn away by the flood of data.

The following building blocks help looking at and developing rituals.

  • Easy Structure
    By the simple course of a ritual, the particular group of participants, who get together at a determined place, at repeating times and for a specific duration knows what they have to do according to their roles. Clear symbols, rules and decision paths underline the purpose and the deeper meaning – whether to steer, develop and change the area or to strengthen the sense of community.
  • Purpose and meaning
    A ritual has an official purpose that has different significances for the individual roles. On the one hand, the organizers pursue with their agenda business and political interests – primarily to convince the participants of their intentions. On the other hand, the participants have complex needs – they want to be informed, prepared, presented or state their own ideas. The ritual relaxes the dilemma between these different requests by ensuring regular exchange through its simple structure.
  • Sense of community
    A central building block is cohesion, which is strengthened by a ritual. The simple structure, the common purpose and meaning for the participants as well as the routine of the ritual will be accepted over time and provides benefits for all participants. The danger of an exclusionary self-conception can be counteracted by appropriately built-in openings – e.g. by a practiced public sphere, established tolerance and equal treatment or by a decisive condemnation of whatever-prejudice. The solidarity between the participants is underpinned by this set of values. Above all, symbols promote a sense of togetherness: logos, emblems and other trademarks.
  • Well-being
    The volatility and ambiguity of the reference points on which the members direct their actions often create uncertainty and fear. Fear is one of the greatest impediments for today’s tasks – when everyone has to adapt because they want to do less for more, or have to work with unknown people, or become harassed by pathological leaders. Contrary to fear, fun is one of the greatest accelerators. We are all charged with confidence and encouraged to perform at our best. Fun brings us into the flow that produces maximum performance. For these reasons rituals always need parts that promote well-being – e.g. meeting at eye level, respectful social interaction, demonstrated appreciation and above all the creation of opportunities to participate.

Bottom line: The group members of all kinds are constantly looking for security in nowadays VUCA world. Countless rituals offer this through a simple process, for and at definite times, and allow an individual group of participants to exchange ideas at a precise location. Clear symbols and rules create the basis for a sense of community and make it easier for those involved to have orientation and to contribute effectively. The official purpose is linked to the interests of each participant. The ritual creates well-being for the individual by overcoming fears and stimulating fun factors at work. Rituals are an integral part of our everyday life and foster stability in the flow of change.

PAM – What’s in it for me?

During evolution, our body has adapted to handle a continuous stream of sensory stimuli. The flood of information that everybody talks about seems to increase the amount of external signals. This man-made noise to which we are exposed, visually and auditorily and sometimes even olfactorily, seems to be much louder, more dazzling and stronger than the natural signals of the past. The extent to which today’s flood of data is more significant for us than the reflections of light on the water that showed the fisherman the swarm, or the rustling of the leaves that announced a storm, or the smell that warned one of wild animals, could be discussed. However, it is unlikely that in the short time since modern signals are flooding us, our sensory abilities have changed significantly. Just as the cracking of a branch directed the attention of early humans in the appropriate direction and was decisive for survival, so the news seems to be a signal for some people to pay attention to something. When selling your goods and services, you need the meaningful digestion of your messages by your target group. Customers should be encouraged to ask: What‘s in it for me?

The way in this direction requires all the following steps.

  • Perception
    The basic prerequisite for capturing a message is the sensory receipt and the passing on of corresponding stimuli – an image, a sound or noise, a special surface, a smell or a taste. Without the transmission of signals, potential customers have no way of receiving anything at all.
    This means that you have to deal with today’s channels. This applies to the Internet, but also to traditional media such as newspapers, radio, television and especially books. Reuse reduces the effort and increases the likelihood of being noticed.
  • Attention
    After you send your messages as regularly as possible, it is important to increase the stimulus in such a way that it surpasses the absolute perception threshold and thereby attracts the attention of your target group. A good example of this threshold is a room full of people, whose buzz produces a uniform noise in which nevertheless one’s own name immediately stands out. Only when the messages attract attention, the audience can deal with them.
    In the flood of Internet contents, it is not enough to spend a lavish design or a large budget, but you should offer added value, through freemium offers, valuable checklists or multimedia explanations. The difficulty lies in managing the balancing act between novelty and old-fashioned – a new buzzword is not searched for by the users and an established one is lost in the flood of search results. For this reason, it is beneficial to avoid everything that leads to habituation and thus to suppressing your messages. Stand out from the crowd with extraordinary size of your title, use unusual colors and color contrasts (e.g. purple with yellow), irritate with bizarre to senseless slogans (e.g. you pay for nothing!) or surprise outside the expectations of customers (e.g. field advertising besides airports). As a result, you get from enticing contents an organic boost in google results and you will be shared by satisfied users.
  • Meaning
    The attention is not beneficial, if the viewers cannot link the identified content with their existing mindset. The value of the message is always determined by the recipient, not by the sender. For this reason it is necessary to take care of your target groups in order to get as close as possible to their reality. This starts, for example, with the choice of language – you should certainly not speak to French people in Japanese; additionally, target groups often have a special jargon that you have to meet.
    For this reason clarify what you actually want to convey – e.g. what do we offer? Who are our competitors? Which language should we use? Which words are conducive? Which are harmful? The better you anticipate your target group, the more likely your messages will make sense to the audience and they will accept your offers.

Bottom line: Flood of information or not, you will not get around participating in the storm. The possibilities of the Internet have contributed substantially to the fact that everybody provides ever more and more noticeable contents. The efforts are of little benefit, if everyone struggles the same way, as they all improve to the same extent. This makes it all the more important to deal with the steps of perception to deliver the extra that puts you ahead of the pack.
PAM offers a simple sequence that can be used for orientation when conveying messages.
1) In order to be perceived, you must send your messages through one or more sensory channels. 2) The messages should stand out noticeably from the crowd. 3) The audience should be given a chance to connect the content with their mental models. From then on, potential customers can deal with what’s in it for them.

Additional meaning is between the lines

Not only since the Internet there is the tendency to ever shorter texts. Blog posts provide facts, opinions and gossip with less than 1000 words. In extreme cases a Tweet compresses expressions into 140 characters. Thus, it will be more and more important to be aware that a text contains only a part of the meaning. Additional meaning is between the lines.

zwizei e

The steps to this additional sense go over questions concerning the following aspects.

  • Intentions
    Each text is written with a certain intention that does not necessarily reveal itself in the text. If somebody describes drawbacks, like for example the U.S. in the course of the Volkswagen crisis, then the text conveys noble reasons, like the protection of the environment or the consumers. If one could see behind the scenes, then perhaps the true intentions would become visible – influencing the automobile market or damaging the European economy in favor of the U.S.
    The question that arises is: What are the true intentions of the writer?
  • Concepts and terms
    The words that are used in a text, are coming out of the mind of the author, which he learned through concepts and terminologies. In German, new terms can be quickly created by simply combining two nouns, like e.g. joy and hunger to joy hunger. But the resulting word will be incomprehensible to some and understandable to others. If the word is used in the context of psychology, another association emerges, as if one finds it in a cook book. Eventually one cannot know, what the writer originally meant. The appropriate questions are:
    In which context are the words used? What do the words mean?
  • Standards
    All texts evolve in a cultural context with certain standards. If an American writes a text, then the individual is always in the limelight – the American dream stimulates for special performance. In Asian countries the text is created in the context of social relationships – the stimulus results from the obligations for the community.
    The suitable question is: Which standards push the meaning into which direction?
  • Way of writing texts
    The production of texts can be very different. Hand written words from the ivory tower have another character, than sentences written by hand in a coffee shop, or typed with a typewriter, or entered into a computer or spoken into a tape recorder. The same is also valid with the text interpretation – read or listened. According to the procedure, texts have a more or less well structured story line as well as a respective consistency of the thoughts.
    The questions are: Where and how was the text created?
  • Feelings
    “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Ludwig Wittgenstein finished with this sentence his Tractatus Philosophicus. And this is where we find the limits of expression. Feelings that move us and that we do not have a word for, cannot be expressed accordingly with words. Nevertheless they affect the flow and the conclusions that are written or are omitted in the text.
    The associated question is: What was the mood of the author?

Bottom line: In summary, a text is much more than the sum of its words. In most of the cases it will be difficult to determine those additional backgrounds. Perhaps at least a part might be discovered, by imagining additional meaning between the lines.

The vulnerability of meaning

We interpret at any time a situation that results from the context, a statement or a relationship. Different perspectives create automatically different interpretations (more here: Rarely it becomes as clear as on March 15th 2015. The Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis was invited to participate via satellite in a German Sunday-evening talk show. There, he was confronted with a video, in which he was to have apparently stuck the middle finger towards Germany. On the basis of some aspects, the vulnerability of meaning becomes visible.


Vulgar gestures produce much attention in the public – inconvenient for the one, who hangs at the finger; pleasantly for the critical rest. In Germany people know such cases from sports and politics.

Two videos form the basis for this blog post.

  • Video1 (in German here: shows the talk show with discussion participants in Berlin and, from Greece connected, Yanis Varoufakis. In a clip, that describes the past life of Yanis Varoufakis with some edited scenes, can be found in the broadcast from minute 23:39 to 26:13 (see below 1). The answer of Yanis Varoufakis, in which he denies the authenticity of the video, can be found from minute 26:16 to 26:52 (see below 2).
  • Video2 (in English here: shows the original recording of the meeting of his key note about his book „The global Minotaur“, in Zagreb, on May 5th 2013. The relevant cutout from the Q&A following his presentation with the mentioned gesture starts from minute of 40:20 until 40:36 (see below 3).

The producers of the talk show create with their presentation the impression that Yanis Varoufakis stuck the middle finger to Germany in his function as Greek Minister, which would have been a disrespectful affront. The following points underline the attempt of the television producers to inject negative meaning into this gesture.

  1. Günther Jauch, the host, assesses the clip at the beginning with the words „… the Germans are occasionally irritated, in which manner especially you… “.
  2. The clip produces an ambiguous impression with historical cutouts that are incomplete and torn out of context as well as were mounted in the wrong chronological order. The polarizing speaker in the off, who produces a logical, but apparently wrong context, amplifies this impression (see speaker in the clip text below 1).
  3. Günther Jauch underlines his assessment with the words „the middle finger for Germany..
  4. Günther Jauch often interrupts Yanis Varoufakis.
  5. The non verbal signals of the discussion participants are a further attempt to underline their assessment; e.g. the surprise of Günther Jauch, when Varoufakis denies the middle finger.
  6. The discussions are translated simultaneously by two interpreters. You can only hear the German translation and fragments of the answers of Varoufakis. We do not know, with which words the German parts were translated. It would be interesting to hear the actual statements.

Yanis Varoufakis reacts with a general statement „ I never stuck the middle finger“, which is obviously wrong. Or did he want to say that he did not stick the middle finger to Germany?

  1. He was appointed in the year 2015 as Greek Minister of Finance.
  2. The quotation „My proposal was“ is a suggestion for the year 2010.

The audience can make their own assessment after watching the two videos.

Result: So what drove the television producers to mount the quotations in such a way as if Yanis Varoufakis would have expressed himself disrespectfully towards Germany? We can only speculate about it. Visibly there is the attempt to deliver a certain meaning with the clip from Zagreb in the style of the “black channel” It would be desirable, if the public would not discuss in a populist style the middle finger, but the cheap shift of meaning in the “neutral“ public service media. In any case the vulnerability of meaning becomes visible.


1) Clip text
Günther Jauch: „The Germans have the feeling that they already were solidary with Greece for a very long time. No country gave more billions to Greece than Germany. But all the more the Germans are occasionally irritated, with which manner especially you also acted towards our country. “

Cutout of the clip about Yanis Varoufakis:
Speaker: „Then the euro-crisis. Varoufakis writes articles, he gives interviews and makes videos, in which he explains the crisis.“
Varoufakis: „The rich made profits, but the poor had to fight like never.“
Speaker: „Varoufakis wants to give new self-assurance to the Greeks.“
Varoufakis: „Greece should simply announce that it is defaulting“
Speaker: „and stands for clear messages, particularly to Germany.“
Varoufakis: „stick the finger to Germany and say: Well, you can now solve this problem by yourself.“

Günther Jauch: „The middle finger for Germany, Mr. Minister? The Germans pay most and are by far most strongly criticized for it.

2) Answer Yanis Varoufakis
This video is wrong. That was doctored. I never did something like that. I am ashamed for the fact that one thinks that I am capable of such a video. I am sure, that you did not know it. But this is a fake. I never showed this finger. This is a faked video. Just like another one that is shown in Greece, where I allegedly stretched out my hand to a foreign politician and withdrew it at the last moment.

3) Original text Zagreb
“My proposal [in early 2010 added by M.L.] was that Greece should simply announce that it is defaulting – just like Argentina did – within the Euro, in January 2010, and stick the finger to Germany and say: Well, you can now solve this problem by yourself.” [The bold parts were broadcasted in the talk show.]

Meaning is not simply defined

A substantial part of the economy, politics and other areasof life is the exchange of information. The biggest mistake is the assumption that a situation is clear per se. On the one hand, due to generalizations, distortions and deletions parts of the message get lost. On the other hand, receivers of the message extend the actual meaning with their own associations and interpretations. Although contents are passed on deliberately, the meaning lies in the eye of the recipients. The path to the message is steep and uncertain. It requires effort and time. There is no guarantee that the desired outcome can be achieved at the target group. Meaning is not simply defined.

For this reason, a good preparation is important. The actual exchange is not limited to the statement, but requires conscious coordination – talks and discussions. Since understanding only becomes visible in doing, meaning design reaches until practical implementation.

BG-scribble e

Meaning design consists of three steps: developing the idea, exchanging information and the realization in doing. If a step is skipped, the probability of obstacles grows.

From the idea to the concept, the stability of contents evolves. For this purpose, it is favorable to consider alternative options. In the case of developing ideas, the arguments for the selected solution as well as the counterarguments for the other alternatives arise.
Example: The market for video rentals is breaking down. You develop new business models, in order to stay in business. Alternatives are: starting an on-line business, specializing your offer or giving up the business. You decide for a specialized offer of cultural rare pieces that will be rented and sold nation-wide.

From concept to the prepared message to the desired effect, the basis of acceptance is defined. The translation of the abstract concept into the language of the target group is crucial for understanding. Therefore, it is important to know the language and ways of thinking of the target group. In mutual exchange of ideas, the edited message and aspects of the concept are improved. The result is the common understanding.
Example: You visit your branches and present the new concept to your employees. They give you the idea, to add foreign films to your product range that are difficult to obtain. The employees are enthusiastic about your training program that teaches them the new assortment.

From the initial doing to mastery, the desired effect evolves. Not until the message causes an action, it becomes visible, whether the concept functions or not. The involvement of the doers into a regular dialog ensures the desired advantages in the long-term.
Example: After you prepared the market with elaborated advertising for your offer, first issues arise in the support of your knowledgeable customers. With the introduction of appropriate information systems, the employees adjust themselves to the new market. The revenue develops in the desired direction.

Bottom line

The conscious use of meaning design enables the transfer from an old to a new condition. Crucial are the thoughtful concept, the active reconciliation with the involved ones and the continuous improvement of the outcomes.