I've been meaning to say

Words and their changing meanings are a good indicator of where we're going.

commentary Words and their changing meanings are a good indicator of where we're going.

There's nothing like the beginning of a new year to get one's mind ruminating about where we are and where we're going. Everyone's got their own way of looking at things, but I've always found that one can learn a lot through the meanings of words and how they're changing.

Then again, there are those who, to get their bearings, look back -- as Ina Fried and Matt Hines did in a ZDNet article on Microsoft entitled "Five years of Ballmer -- the effect on Microsoft". In it they say that "Many of the issues... Microsoft has faced in recent years -- security issues, slowing tech spending, and the rising popularity of open-source software, are things that any Microsoft chief executive officer would have had to face."

To back this up, the authors even use quotes from Directions on Microsoft analyst, Matt Rosoff, who said: "It's a little hard to separate the changes that would have happened anyway from the changes that happened specifically from Ballmer becoming CEO. There's a lot of stuff that would have happened anyway that Microsoft would have had to react to regardless of who was CEO."

I have to say that this provides some pretty strong indications of how many people view leaders these days. Are leaders there to "react to" change? Reacting is something you do to acts of God, but "security issues" and "the rising popularity of open-source software" are things that the leader of one of the largest IT companies in the world should have seen coming a mile off.

Is the problem that there aren't any strong leaders? Or that we don't expect enough from leaders these days?
This is not the place for a political discussion, but suffice it to say that I think that arena provides further examples of how we seem to have lost the concept of what a leader is.

I seem to remember asking in this very column last year for readers' thoughts about inspiring leaders in this country. I had hoped to get enough reponses to follow it up with a short list and further voting, but unfortunately I didn't get enough submissions for even that.

Is the problem that there aren't any strong leaders? Or that we don't expect enough from leaders these days? Write to the address and let me know. If you don't, I'm warning you, I'll start a blog. How's that for a neat segue into the next word that's driving me mad?

Blogs. In the beginning, to write a blog, all you really had to do was meet one of two requirements: you had to have something interesting to say or you had to be a really good writer. If you met both requirements, you would be assured of a big following.

Now, of course, we know that neither is required. And it's like someone's forcing them to start writing that useless cyberspace filler. Here's a real quote from the homepage of an IT writer I know: "As much as I hate blogging and every pathetic thing it stands for, I've decided to jump on the bandwagon." Can't wait to see that one.

Just one more phrase that's bugging me: customer service. Dictionary.com defines it as this: "assistance and other resources that a company provides to the people who buy or use its products or services". You know, that's what I thought it was. We both must be a bit out of date, because -- even with all this wonderful technology -- customer service seems to mean those things an organisation does to (1) grab new customers away from the competition, and (2) get back customers they've lost through inattention and poor service. I got to see this first hand when, two days after switching all my phone services from that big company that begins with a T to that smaller one that begins with an A, I received a letter from T saying the move didn't mean "you're not a priority for us". Sheesh, now they want to talk.

Brian Haverty is Editorial Director of ZDNet Australia. Give him a piece of your mind at edit@zdnet.com.au.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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