I watched a presentation today which described work done on a project as "a journey". I thought about how many times in recent years I've seen that term applied to accounts of projects, reports on application of initiatives, and other accounts of How Things Went.
Everything's a journey now. It's a metaphor that's permeated so many organisations, as well as our personal lives. I have no problem with it usually, but I started thinking today about why a journey is such a popular metaphor with businesses - I can see why it's popular with individuals, but the fuzzy, feel-good logic of the journey doesn't seem to endear it with businesses and organisations with a bottom-line.
Journeys are familiar. Everyone can relate to the metaphor of a Journey, because we make journeys all the time - the daily commute, the day-trip, the bus ride. Journeys are also resonant metaphors: they're a common element of myths and legends, and we all know from those that journeys mean transformation, redemption, and salvation of some sort. I knew this vaguely before (I have a deep interest in mythology, and especially the work of Joseph Campbell), but a new thought came to me today.
Thinking of your work as a Journey absolves people from blame of failure: if it's the journey that counts, then you don't have to worry about whether you actually got there. It shifts the focus away from results, and towards process - which most people agree is a good thing (especially if you've experienced working in a completely result-oriented environment) - except that sometimes results do matter. If it's a journey, then you don't ever have to admit you didn't suceed - you're just still on the journey, it's too early to tell, we've made progress, it's early days, and you know, baby steps, that sort of thing.
The other implication is that a Journey doesn't have to end: if your work is conceptualised as a Journey, then you never actually get there, and the work doesn't ever stop - it just keeps going on and on, because it's The Journey that matters. Success, instead of a finishing line, becomes a milestone, and if we remember what milestones are, they're just markers on a route telling you there's more to go. Everything's milestones now, and no one ever actually gets anywhere. As my colleague puts it "The reward for good work is more work".