Monday, 28 February 2011

Feature deletion

The MP Norman Baker became briefly famous a few years back for inciting us all to stop using the standby buttons on our electronics.

The energy wasted on standby was equivalent to three million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year in the UK alone.

Everyone agreed that this was a terrible problem, but what could be done?

Surely, we were all just too fat and lazy to stand up and turn the TV off properly.

Well, yes, it turned out, we were.

To save us in our hour of immobility, companies started inventing standby controllers - remote gadgets that you could use to turn off your electronics properly from the comfort of your armchair.

(As an aside, this once again proves to me that the ingenuity of the sloth knows no bounds and that if only we put the slack and the supine in charge of world science, the sooner everything would be sorted.)

Clever as it was, this solution was neither elegant nor practical as it just added to the teeming profusion of remote controls in the modern living room.

Another, cleaner answer was to make electronics so efficient that even in standby mode they barely used any power at all.

However, the simplest idea was the design solution which just did away with the standby button altogether.

No button, no problem.

Good design has always been about subtraction rather than addition, deducting clutter from purpose.

And in Business English, it seems, we have taken this mantra up with a vengeance.

BELF and Mark Powell's 'lean language' both aim to minimise the language we teach.

Actual classrooms are slowly being substituted by virtual ones.

And course-books are being replaced by online modules.

In this spartan regime, only two constants remain: trainers and clients.

Or do they?

Most of us already build in self-deletion to our course designs.

We actually want our learners to become autonomous and to do without us.

We have failed if they don't.

Surely, though, it's only a matter of time before the whole process begins with autonomy - with computer programmes, with internet modules, with online meeting points for  professionals to practise their business English with each other, without us.

And when that happens, that old standby - the BE trainer - will be deleted too.


  1. Hi Tony

    A sound argument! And yes, it's already happening in some companies which used to employ English trainers. Nowadays employees are being told to sort out their English skills by themselves - it's part of the job.

  2. Good teachers make themselves progressively unnecessary. Maybe we're just too damn good at our jobs!

  3. Hi Evan,
    I suppose it's all about the value-add in the end: what can we give that can't be got from textbooks, computer programmes and online chat? I can think of a fairly lengthy list in answer to that, but many of them come down to time and accuracy. As those are both valuable commodities, especially in the business world, I suppose we have some time yet before we're consigned to the luxury-goods section.

  4. Hi Candy,
    This model seems to have served doctors very well throughout the ages, so why not us? Anyhow, I suspect the advent of a BELF lexical core will make us even better at our jobs!