I hope you can, but I doubt it. If you think you can, please comment before and after. Go one work week without uttering a single acronym or abbreviation. No ASAPs, no TPS Reports, no MRIs. Recently, two dozen people sat around a board room table. I was one of them. After 30 minutes it was all I could do to stay in the damn room. “We have acronyms for everything,” one woman said. Not to be outdone, representatives from three other organizations one-upped her. “We have books to define all our acronyms.” “New people can’t even figure out what do with all our abbreviations.” And they all laugh. I slapped the table. “Would you people listen to yourselves?” I hissed. “You’re bragging about being unintelligible. Like it’s respectable to speak in gobbledygook.” Actually, I smiled like an idiot and continued the meeting. But I wanted to fix the real problem. Arcane speech kills understanding.
Mothers get it. Little Sarah wants her plastic Winnie-the-Pooh doll on the high chair tray next to her thick, yellow training plate while she eats. Dad takes it away. Mom sighs. “What?” Dad says. “It doesn’t belong there while she’s eating. She’ll play and get food all over it.” Mom rolls her eyes. Little Sarah cries, “I want my Pooh!” Dad digs in. It ends in tears, of course, for Dad, anyway. Food lands on the wall. Dad yells and starts to clean. Mom gives Sarah the damn toy. Sarah giggles and eats. Some firms care more about adherence to an arbitrary process than about results. Some bosses care more about the color of a whiteboard marker than about what the marker’s writing. Some brands care more about selling it to you their way than about making the sale. Never compromise the magic of your process, your products, or your systems. But when a little
Yes, we laugh at people. And at brands and companies and political parties. Childish as it might seem, we all enjoy the fine art of ridicule. Try this. Search for any company or brand on Twitter. You’ll see lots of ridicule. Or Google any band followed by “sucks.” On the links that return, you’ll find a blend of humor, ridicule, scorn, and anger to rival a school board meeting in a bankrupt town. The sad thing is that most of these companies bring it on themselves. Sure, a lot of the anti-brand internet chatter comes from juvenile malcontents who just want to hate and mock. But it sinks into the consumer psyche because of the brand’s selfish presence. To help out erstwhile brands that just don’t get it, here are three free tips: 1. Don’t tell me your mission statement. I don’t care what your mission it; I care what my mission is. Instead of
What do you think about me writing a movie screenplay? I think I will. It’s a sequel to the 1998 hit You’ve Got Mail. You remember, don’t you? Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks? Hanks is a senior exec for a big box bookstore chain called Fox Books. Fox is killing the mom and pop book shops. Fox Books locations are popping up everywhere. Hanks’ character is a ruthless, greedy businessman. Ryan owns a idyllic little bookstore that she dotes on like a little girl with a new pet bunny. In the movie, their characters hate each other because Fox Books wants to put the Ryan’s shop out of business. Ryan’s character is a sweet, socially conscious champion of the little guy. But there’s a twist. Hanks and Ryan, through their AOL screen names, are falling in love with other. Their online personas haven’t figured out each other’s real-life character. Fun for all. Now to my
When you hear the Tylenol case study, do you want to puke? Sure, it’s a great story of how a responsible company handles a crisis. If you’ve never heard it, it goes like this: People in Chicago were dying after taking Tylenol capsules. Some hunk of human detritus had replaced the acetaminophen in the capsule with cyanide. Poison. So innocent people—young, old, didn’t matter—were dying. America panicked. I remember watching Nightline with Ted Koppel and hearing that we are pretty defenseless against a monster bent on murder. Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of Tylenol’s manufacturer, immediately pulled all forms of Tylenol from the distribution chain. They didn’t wait for a government order. They didn’t wait to add up the costs. In this case, Johnson & Johnson valued human lives more than quarterly profit—even more than they valued one of the best-selling brands in the world. Why do I puke when I hear that story?
When a team of Army Rangers liberated US POWs from a Japanese prison camp toward the end of World War II, the prisoners–American soldiers, Marines, and sailors–wouldn’t leave their cells. They were afraid of the Rangers. The POWs had been imprisoned since the Bataan Death March in 1942. American uniforms, equipment, and lingo had advanced 20 years or more in the three years since. The new Army was as foreign to the POWs as were their Japanese captors on the day they surrendered Corregidor. In 1942, America was geared up to prevent another war like the last one. But the last one ended a generation earlier. In Vietnam, the US is said to have fought the Korean war all over again. Throughout history, non-aggressors have fought the last war. That’s usually a losing strategy. In business, we call it applying “lessons learned.” Like fighting the last war, responding to the last opportunity is a sucker’s
I like to look at a picture of the person I’m writing to before I start writing. Before starting this post, I looked at a colleague’s online profile portrait. Call him Phil. Phil’s a great guy with a catalog of jokes that rivals the card catalog at the New York City Public Library. Phil’s problem: at work he writes stilted, complex letters full of huge words. Plus, he adds long strings of modifiers before every verb and noun. His so-called business writing misses his human targets altogether. So I’m writing this post to let him know, once and for all: Businesses can’t read. Got that? If you’re writing to a business, you’re not #winning. People read; buildings stand. Whether you’re writing a blog post, a consultant’s report, or an email explaining your product’s benefits, your audience is a human being. There’s no such thing as business writing. What did you say? Some companies use scanners