Acronym Problem

I really don’t like acronyms. It makes you feel an outsider and out of the some particular circle. Marketing is full of them, especially Digital Marketing, for example when you talk about search engine optimization or search engine marketing. The vocabulary is full of slang and 3 letter acronyms which, in my opinion, makes the passage of the knowledge really difficult. This was something that I thought a lot before I started to explore in depth the world of digital, and actually I think it acted also as an deterrent to start earlier. Of course there is a good side when it actually helps you to speed up the process of exchanging opinions, thoughts and expertise, but in my experience I always found that people aren’t really aware when this finality is suffocated by exaggeration.

I finally make up my mind when I read Elon Musk’s biography. There is a passage during the time he was expanding the Space X into what we can see today, that is a multibilion dollars exploring space company that completed more then 10 flights to space, following the success of creating for the first time the technology to land back the first stage of a rocket (the big part of the rocket).  This passage is about him, sending a 2 page long mail to all employees, telling them specifically when is right and when is wrong to use acronyms.  I will paste the mail cause it is really cool to take a look also at his ton of voice, and to analyse him as a leader, but the bottom line is that people need to stop being closed pools and need to start being rivers. Information need to flow, you need to help others see the beauty of your work not by overcomplicating everything, but quite contrary, by being as simple as possible.

There is a creeping tendency to use made up acronyms at SpaceX. Excessive use of made up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication and keeping communication good as we grow is incredibly important. Individually, a few acronyms here and there may not seem so bad, but if a thousand people are making these up, over time the result will be a huge glossary that we have to issue to new employees. No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees.

That needs to stop immediately or I will take drastic action—I have given enough warnings over the years. Unless an acronym is approved by me, it should not enter the SpaceX glossary. If there is an existing acronym that cannot reasonably be justified, it should be eliminated, as I have requested in the past.

For example, there should be no “HTS” [horizontal test stand] or “VTS” [vertical test stand] designations for test stands. Those are particularly dumb, as they contain unnecessary words. A “stand” at our test site is obviously a *test* stand. VTS-3 is four syllables compared with “Tripod,” which is two, so the bloody acronym version actually takes longer to say than the name!

The key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication. An acronym that most engineers outside of SpaceX already know, such as GUI, is fine to use. It is also ok to make up a few acronyms/contractions every now and again, assuming I have approved them, e.g., MVac and M9 instead of Merlin 1C-Vacuum or Merlin 1C-Sea Level, but those need to be kept to a minimum.




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