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Touching the heart not the hard drive…

A while ago while wandering the secondhand book stores on and around Charing Cross Road, I picked up for a pound a copy of the Grand Old Doyen of management thinking Peter Drucker’s Technology, Management and Society. It’s a slim volume packed with clear, compelling Druckerisms that are as true today as they were when he penned them back in 1958. Take, for example, his four fundamentals of communication:

  1. Communciation is perception
  2. Communication is expectations
  3. Communication is involvement
  4. Communication and information are totally different

In exploring these fundamentals, he imparts pearls such as the importance of talking to people in their own terms (“one has to use a carpenter’s metaphors when talking to carpenters”), the pernicious nature of information overload (“it does not enrich, but impoverishes”), and the essential contrast between information and communication – “Information is purely formal and has no meaning. It is impersonal rather than interpersonal.” Communication by contrast is human, emotional, experiential. “Indeed, the most perfect communications may be purely shared experiences, without any logic whatever.” Communication touches the heart; information resides in a hard drive.

All of which put me in mind of the following poetic wisdom from e.e. cummings:

since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you

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Zest, grit and other great character traits…

In an article in the FT, champion of all things entrepreneurial Luke Johnson hones in on the essential ingredient for success in school and in business: character.

He points to Paul Tough’s New York Times essay “What if the Secret to Success is Failure”, which identifies the seven character traits that matter most for a child to do well at school: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. These, he says, are also the defining criteria for entrepreneurs.

They’re certainly a fine selection – who among us wouldn’t like to have zest and grit, optimism and curiosity coursing through our veins.

Whether or not they’re the secret seven for budding pupils and business starters alike, or a rather more universally advantageous septet, one thing’s for sure – as JP Morgan famously put it and L Johnson reminds us, in pretty much all aspects of life  “…the first thing is character.”

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Clearly different…

From low hanging fruit to pushing the envelope, as Rhymer Rigby points out in an article in the FT, there are some pretty tired metaphors out there in the world of business speak.

Yet we shouldn’t write off the form just because many of the examples are poor or past their sell-by date. Painting pictures with your words, through metaphor, simile and the like, can be a great way to make yourself clear in business – as clear as a country creek. And clarity – the characterful clarity of people using everyday words and the occasional brilliant metaphor – is the currency of commercial difference.

As business language trainer Jamie Jauncey puts it in the same article, “Business is ultimately about people and connecting and relationships. It should be using the real language of human exchange, not some Orwellian bizspeak. You can’t take people along with this kind of language. You don’t differentiate yourself and you miss opportunities.”

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Choosing language to reflect character…

“Language signals not education, but character: not what you know, but who you are.” So says Sarah Churchwell, professor of American literature and public understanding of the humanities at UEA, in an article sparked by the admission of “innit” and other neologisms to the latest edition of the Collins Scrabble Dictionary.

Language lives through people and changes or dies with them and the readiness of my amazing mother tongue the English language to flex and grow with the times is one of its great strengths.

We might not like all the new words and ways of talking that emerge but we should welcome each and every one to the family. That way, we have a much richer resource with which to cherish and exercise our freedom to choose the language that best reflects our character. When you look at it that way it’s simple, isn’t it.

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On essays and free spirits…

In a world awash with doomy gloomy news, the Guardian’s In praise of… column offers a daily dose of thoughtful sunniness – 200 words or so of positive take on all kinds of more or less topical subjects.

Subjects such as the essay: “…an intensely personal and conversational genre which is the preferred literary mode of free spirits… The best essays, like George Orwell’s, are tough but not fanatical, delight in the commonplace and ambiguous and can see the world as easily in a ham sandwich as a morning rose.” Much like the In praise of… pieces themselves – which to my eyes are in many ways mighty fine essays in miniature.

So here’s to essays, free spirits, and In praise of…

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Hydropathic pudding anyone?…

The summery sunshine reminds me of a seasonal culinary delight: hydropathic pudding. Hydrowhatic pudding? Hydropathic pudding. That’s summer pudding to you and me. Invented in the 19th century as a none-too appetising-sounding but healthy option for spa-residing poorly people, this delicious fruit-filled concoction was renamed summer pudding at the turn of the 20th. Armed with this appealing new name, it never looked back and today is a modern British classic.
Meanwhile over on Wall Street, Big Lots, the discount retailer, enjoyed a market-beating increase in its stock after changing its ticker from BLI to BIG. According to the FT, academic research shows that stocks whose tickers can be pronounced as a word beat stocks with unpronounceable tickers by a statistically significant margin. As the FT suggests, perhaps that’s why an agribusiness exchange traded fund chose the ticker MOO!
Just goes to show, with clear words and a good name you can go a long long way.

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Sunny free range people…

I came across this rather fine job ad on the window of the Flat Planet cafe, Great Marlborough Street, the other day. Ironically on the site of a former AN Other Coffee Chain, it struck me as a refreshingly engaging alternative to the cookie cutter communication of cappuccino corporations.

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Merry English…

According to a review of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, the English language has a uniquely cheerful ratio of positive to negative emotional terms: about 60% happy to 40% sad. For German, the ratio is a glum 28% to 72%, while for Chinese it’s an even gloomier 22% to 78%.

Doesn’t that make you feel as merry as a pismire (1643)?

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Dr.? No!…

Awhile ago I was asked whether or not Mr should be followed by a full stop. As you can see by the way I’ve just written it, I reckon not.

When it comes to abbreviations – eg Mr, Dr, ie etc – I adapt The Economist’s less is more rule on capital letters: use lower case unless it looks absurd. Indeed less is more is a pretty good principle to adopt for all punctuation.

Full stops, commas, dashes and so on are there to help rather than hinder understanding. Too many and you’re in danger of obstructing the flow of your communication, like barnacles on a boat.

So as a general rule I’d say that if a piece of punctuation doesn’t aid clarity or add character, leave it out. Dr.? No!

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Ars Amatoria…

I’ve been championing the use of clear engaging language for quite awhile now: 20 years and counting. But not nearly so long as Ovid, who penned these words of wisdom over 2,000 years ago: “Use everyday language, familiar yet flattering words, as though you were there, in her presence.” Taken from his Ars Amatoria, Ovid’s guide to finding and keeping the love of your life, this advice could equally well apply to any company seeking to gain and retain customers. Business is after all to some degree about seduction.

Lorem Ipsum? Ars Amatoria!