It may just be a co-incidence but next week I have two "immersion sessions" with new clients.
The business world is full of metaphors so I have been wondering what is the implied meaning of this phrase de jour? Should I take the plunge?
One root of "immersion session" seems to be a method of language learning where you are put in a foreign evironment on a continual basis for two weeks or so. Not only do you only speak French (or whatever) in the classroom, you also have to speak it while you eat, drink, rest, shop. You are fully immersed in Frenchness and are allowed no other "foreign air" in or out of your mouth.
So perhaps these "immersion sessions" are intended to so fully immerse me in the client problem/culture that I will rapidly become a native (and hence more properly solve the problem).
These sessions seem to be about 3 hours long. I can probably "hold my breath" for that long and avoid going native. Are they not really "kick off sessions" (operating metaphor : there's a long game ahead but we need to signal a start even if not much is established in the first kicks) or maybe "briefing sessions" (operating metaphor : our experts have reduced a complex situation to a short but cogent summary of what you need to know in order to do your bit of the task)?
I think someone is making an overclaim here and perhaps revealing an insecurity.
Is there a client side suggestion that our culture and situation are so special and complex that we couldn't possibly "brief" you on it. Mais Non, you must be immersed in the terroir of our culture to have any chance of understanding it!
Or is it an agency side suggestion that we intend to be become "fully immersed" in your business problem. We are fascinated by your culture and can think about nothing else!
Or is it a "we have so much information and data to hose you down with, brace yourself for a full on immersive data soak". We are just swamped with the stuff and can't wait to get rid of it (I think I'd rather have the brief, at least to start with)
Maybe there are even some religious overtones to all this. Many religious cultures practice immersion (and even full submersion) as part of their initiation rites. Is this what is required of me at these meetings - a symbolic death and re-birth resulting in a joining with the new corporate communion? Yikes!
I'll bring a towel just in case.
My view is that these metaphors are unhelpful.
For me, clients (their cultures, their problems) are things to be studied not immersed in or converted to. I'm paid to be objective. To solve their problems. And while empathising with and "getting a feel" for the culture is part of the study (doctors don't have to be "clinical", they can relate to "the person" too), I don't think I'm helping anyone by going native or becoming a zealot.
So given that both of these projects will be lengthy studies and involve much experimenting, hypothesising and testing, I think the best metaphor is "briefing".
So, request to clients : explain to me the core of the issue as elegantly as you can and point me to all the branches of enquiry I will need to explore at a later date.
But don't immerse me.
For one thing, I can't swim.