“Iterative,” the latest jargon to infiltrate the corporate world, is not found in Webster’s so don’t bother looking. Though, by deduction from its constant albeit erroneous usage, the likely definition would include collaborative or group think. What makes “iterative” even more annoying than the reigning trifecta of cliché corporate speak — generative, paradigm and synergy — is its flawed application.
In mathematical problem solving, the iterative method uses an initial guess to generate successive approximations to a solution. The definition of the root word “iterate” is “to utter or do again,” which ironically is what invariably happens when the iterative process is applied to any creative endeavor. Whether for strategic planning, marketing, advertising, web design, holiday party planning, whatever — groups are formed to guess, approximate, pose ideas and then plan future meetings to repeat the process – with the product each time being lots of talk and little action.
What’s even worse about the pretense of the “iterative” (i.e. collaborative) process, this approach to creativity by committee inevitably backfires. And here’s why:
- The rule is all opinions no matter how irrelevant or worthless must be validated and incorporated. Consequently, to reach a consensus, any edginess is smoothed out and the highest concepts are deflated to lowest common denominators.
- The group process also conveniently screens all duly responsible parties from individual accountability. For insecure, decision-averse executives, they can hide within groups – sort of a “wimp protection program.”
- Worse yet, deadlines (like traffic signs in L.A.) become nothing more than suggestions. In the meantime resolution and solution continue to get kicked down the road.
In other words, for “iterative” in whatever “iteration” to be legitimized, its focus must be on results rather than process. Otherwise, it’s simply more corporate B.S., synonymous with mediocrity, inertia and failure.