by Mark L. Levinson
“The Really Jewish Food Guide 2018 is coming soon to Jewish shops,” says a United Synagogue webpage. “Be sure to get your copy!”
If so far I haven’t got it, it’s not my copy yet, is it?
And if there’s no such thing as my copy yet, how can I get something that doesn’t exist?
There’s a fancy word, prolepsis, for such premature descriptions, and they’re classed as a figure of speech, not an error. Merriam-Webster takes an example from a poem by Alexander Pope where “yon slow oxen turn the furrowed plain.” The plain isn’t furrowed until they’ve turned it.
Some organizations hold a “lessons learned” meeting at the end of a project, and if everyone had learned the lessons already, the meeting wouldn’t be necessary. So that’s prolepsis too.
The traditional Hebrew equivalent is הפקת לקחים (hafakat lekakhim) but the words don’t exactly correspond. Lekakh does mean a lesson, and it comes from the verb lakakhat, meaning ”to take.” In fact, at a lessons-learned meeting in English, someone might say “What are the takeaways from this project?” It’s legitimate jargon, meaning the things we should remember — in short, the lessons. However, I don’t think the term “takeaway meeting” or “takeaways meeting” is used much if at all.
The hafakat part makes a lot more sense than “learned” in English, because it’s not prolepsis. It could be translated as “coming up with” or “formulating” lessons, but still, if you’re translating Hebrew to English, I think most clients would expect a term that is familiar from English-language corporate speak.
Michal Koor wrote in mentioning the awkwardness of translating hafakat lekakhim, so I checked at the Methoda website. I did a little work for Methoda earlier in the century. They’re industrial process consultants, and I respect their wisdom. At least on the public pages of their site, though, they don’t like the concept of learning from a finished project. They prefer the concept of continually “monitoring” and improving. Still, there is one sentence from Methoda that mentions “support in implementing systems, investigation and lessons learned, and more.”
And the phrase “lessons learned” does beg to be replaced by a more suitable term, because “implementing systems” is something you do, “investigation” is something you do, but “lessons learned” are something resulting from what you do. For that reason, it’s a hard phrase to fit elegantly into charts and tables in parallel with the project’s preceding processes. Expanding it to “the lessons-learned process” can solve the problem of parallelism but creates a problem of wordiness.
The alternative term “learnings” is a way of saving a few characters, but it could be criticized as inelegant. Google’s Ngram viewer shows it taking off in the 1920s, peaking in 1960, and plummeting in popularity ever since.
Jake Calabrese, of Agile For All, has another problem with “lessons learned.” He writes: “Lessons-learned does not tend to be a ritual and celebration. They often focus on problems and blame and are looked at as ‘another meeting.’ While this may not have been the intention of a lessons-learned event, or may not always be the case, try telling a group of people you are scheduling a lessons-learned meeting and look for the eye-rolls!” So he prefers the term “retrospective” — and he suggests that they should occur frequently during the project and maintain a positive attitude.
Those who believe in frequent retrospectives and monitoring, and who favor a positive attitude, won’t be happy with the term “post mortem,” but it does receive some usage.
The systematic examination of recent efforts seems to me like a kind of analysis, but unfortunately the term “analysis” is used widely to refer to figuring out, at the beginning of the project, what needs to be done. To use it later in the project life cycle, with a different meaning, could be confusing.
Other possibilities from out in the field are “feedback,” “”assessment,” “evaluation,” “project review,” and “performance insights.”
I’d be delighted to see further possibilities in the comment space below so that we can all garner lekakhim. Or if there’s a different word or phrase you’d like to see discussed, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. An index of words and phrases discussed so far is here.