Archive for June, 2009

10 White Van Man’s Cousin’s Castle

Posted in Uncategorized on JuneThu, 25 Jun 2009 22:00:33 +01000025pm09 24 PMpThu, 25 Jun 2009 22:00:33 +010000Thursday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

Do you remember T.W. Fisher from a couple of weeks ago? (03 White Van Man and His Teachings below.) Wiring wizard and gallant knight, pursuivant of his trade twixt Bow and Leytonstone, such is the glory of his transit on a Monday…

AsdacornflakesfrontMr Fisher has many cousins. They live in Swindon, between the city and the business park, where they has done not bad, mate, and run small guest houses with large signs that promise “En-suite Rooms” and also one has “Colour TV”. They give names to these castles of pebble-dash so that, as your taxi grinds past, you find yourself on familiar terms with the owners. For example, in the B&B called Patden, Patricia and Dennis decant the Asda Cornflakes into the Tupperware and grumble about that sales rep from Kent who nicked the ashtray. Behind the crumbling double-glazing of Frantone, Francis and Tony tidy away the new roll-out divan. Strangely, no one ever stays two nights at Muriel and Derek’s.

I have slept in plenty of crap hotels. None worse than my attempt to avoid staying in Bootle (this was just post-Bulger and still pre-Google) by booking by phone a room in the centre of Liverpool. On arrival it became clear that the “Hardman St Hotel” really did deserve its quote marks – that and a two-mile exclusion zone. Several different patterned wallpapers confirmed you had arrived in your room, while a loose-hanging fluorescent tube illuminated all the options for suicide. But it was too late to leave, and besides I’d already padlocked my car to a lamp-post.

Ok, so far you’ve insulted the populations of Swindon, Bootle and Liverpool combined. Who do you think you are? Boris Johnson?
I apologise unreservedly. While low-level hotel comfort is still widely available (just look for any hotel with the word Comfort in the name or, if you’re really hardcore, Brittania), our standard of living in the UK is of course exponentially higher than when “Hot + Cold in all Rooms” was a thrill.

And how this relates to business is…?
Question: does a typical working day add something good to your life? Or, as above, do you wish you’d stayed at home? We spend more hours working than doing any other single thing. It matters enormously that we enjoy it.

Which is why I just don’t get this work/life balance notion that people seem to bang on about. It implies that your life is something you park at the office door for the day and that only begins properly at 5.30pm. I’m not advocating workaholism. I am advocating putting yourself in the driving seat of making each working day as fulfilling as you can.

How? Well, you could go and work for Ricardo Semler, the celebrated champion of the self-determined workforce, if you don’t mind moving to Brazil. (Read how his employees set their own pay scales at Alternatively, the first step might be to see work not as a place of restriction but as a source of stimulation and true reward. Job satisfaction, not pay, is what gets people out of bed. And for most of us, that’s pretty much within own own control.

Aren’t we lucky? We’re not stranded in the rain, it’s not past midnight, we don’t have to stay in that hotel.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember


09 The new cooking

Posted in Uncategorized on JuneFri, 19 Jun 2009 02:44:59 +01004419am09 24 AMpFri, 19 Jun 2009 02:44:59 +010044Friday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

Many moons ago, when I was a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I attended my first international conference. I say international, it was held in Swansea.

The second disappointment was that all the talks were being delivered in a language I didn’t understand. Not Welsh, that would have been easy, but this: “Socio-referencing in Cross-cultural Discourse Patterns”, “Para-linguistic Clue-hunting”, “Meta-language Today”. All these talks had one thing in common: hyphen in the title, asleep by the end.

But there was one talk called “You Teach Like You Cook”. The idea was… well, as the title says. The way we perform one task informs the way we do others. The speaker was an ex-chef turned EFL teacher.

WHAT? Gave up being a chef? He could have had his own TV channel by now?
I know. Anyway he didn’t burden us with teaching tips but got straight down to advice on how to slice carrots into julienne strips (demonstrating with a felt tip pen, I remember) and how never to buy a turbot under 15kg. The latter does mean you need a hob the size of Jodrell Bank and frankly felt tip pens are worse than useless on a carrot, but apart from that the thesis rings true.

What thesis?
The idea that you do everything in your life in the same sort of way.

And how this relates to business is…?
In business as in life. Your business card supplies name, rank and number in the corporate font. And it might be as hyphenated and hifalutin as the Senior Partner of Get-Outta-Here. But what people actually want to know is what makes you tick as a person.

Smart HR people smoke out the truth in selection interviews. After the blandorama questions on career and aspirations, they go sideways for insight. And the same techniques are open to managers selecting internal teams.

So how do you prefer to cook? Do you shun recipe books in the kitchen? Then you’ll trust your instincts in the meeting room. Do you prefer to clean the counter, set ingredients out in order and follow Delia? Then in business you’ll make lists at your desk and weigh up risks with care (despite the occasional leery night down the karaoke). Perhaps you never cook? Professional delegator. Prefer takeaways? Consider a career in the Outsourcing Dept.

Is this true? Are we really that transparent? My granny used to tell me she could read me like a book, and I presumed she must have supernatural powers. But it seems we leave clues about ourselves in everything we do.

What other analogies work? What does the way you drive your car say about how you lead your team?

Well, well. There’s a thought for the weekend. And you don’t need to visit Swansea to explore it.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember


08 Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice

Posted in Uncategorized on JuneThu, 11 Jun 2009 16:55:02 +01005511pm09 24 PMpThu, 11 Jun 2009 16:55:02 +010055Thursday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

The problem really begins back in the manse in Kirkcaldy. As the molar-crunching wind of the grim North Sea cripples trees and blasts the granite walls, inside a sparkly-eyed boy asks his dog-collared father what’s for tea. “A bowl of fire and brimstone, laddie! For the Lord Himself will assuage your hunger.” Mis-hearing, young Gordon becomes excited – sausages for supper, hooray!… Fade to black.

The good men of Fife don’t naturally view life through a very cheery lens. And therein the Prime Minister’s current problems. All that inherited John Knox grit and the distrust of style over substance means no votes for presentational pizzazz. What’s a wee boy to do? Two years ago the media lynched Blair for the opposite crime.

Ok, thank you, Jeremy Paxman. What’s your point?
The point is that presentational style isn’t a luxury. Indeed, while it’s daft to say that substance doesn’t matter, it’s the packaging that makes people buy. It’s not the intricacies of Gordon’s policy on tapering tax relief that will lose Labour the next election, it’s his furrowed brow and fake rictus grin.

And how this relates to business is…?
Business success depends entirely on how you are perceived. Not on what you do, not on how you do it, but on how you are perceived by your customers. Brand projection isn’t some game of hoopla the marketing dept play, it’s a method of controlling how customers respond when they hear your name or see your logo.

Whichever marketplace you operate in, it’s a place of information overload and confusing choices. Maybe you do read the RDA% in 4pt print comparing one box of soapflakes with another, in which case congratulations on being a Swiss person. Elsewhere the stats say consumers pick the package that, somehow or other, projects the message of greater trust. This doesn’t happen only in supermarkets.

It happens mostly on the page. Not just in your brand literature, website and other carefully planned marketing exercises. Every piece of writing your company sends out sends a message that defines your brand.

Trustable, likeable, full of integrity… whatever words you’d like your customers to associate with your company, that message is created or killed upon the written page. And sent out every day of the week in vast numbers of emails, letters, reports, bid documents – by people who don’t realise they’re brand ambassadors and for whom writing is usually not a major strength.

So here’s one tip you might want to give them. Most of the time when people are writing they focus on content and information. Would it help to know that when people are reading, they’re focused mostly not on content but on the voice that comes off the page? It’s tone of voice that gets your brand across. It’s tone of voice that controls how you’re perceived.

Good idea to make this message part of your business thinking? Seems poor Gordon can’t hear it for the North Sea howling in his head.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember


07 Punctuation: what’s the point?

Posted in Uncategorized on JuneFri, 05 Jun 2009 13:11:58 +01001105pm09 24 PMpFri, 05 Jun 2009 13:11:58 +010011Friday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

punctuationReader, do you care about little dots and lines and squiggles?

If so, you’re in the minority. Look around and you’re surrounded by punctuation being mutilated to within a forward slash of its life.

Most obvious is the so-called greengrocer’s apostrophe – that genetically transferrable occupational compunction to spell the plural of a carrot as carrot’s and so on, through the whole stall of bean’s and onion’s and pea’s if you please, towards the apotheosis of the potatoe’s.

Can you find any logic in the pic above? Even if the caff is run by Dan Quayle, that doesn’t explain how the cold drinks escaped being errorised. Actually, there is some logic at work here: it seems if the word ends in a vowel, slap an apostrophe on it, boy! Wrong, of course, but that’s why you used to see video’s (wrong) for rent in the 90’s (wrong), which have now of course mutated into DVD’s (wrong, but wrong for the wrong reason according to the wrong vowel-at-the-end-the-word idea.) Just to be clear, apostrophes don’t make plurals. But who learned that at school?

Unless you were educated when Latin was the native language, or you learned about the semi-colon to the tuneful swish of a Lochgelly belt, the finer points of punctuation may have passed you by. Many people on my Professional Writing Skills workshops claim never to have been taught punctuation at all. I don’t believe them, because they all seem to know you never put a comma before and. Except that’s wrong too. It is perfectly correct to put a comma before and sometimes, and I’ll email you an explanation if you’d like. Or work out why from that last sentence.

But my teacher told me…
Have you thought of suing? Remember when your teacher said to take a breath at a comma? Good rule for learning to read when you’re six, but not ever when you’re writing. Imagine how peppered with commas your page would be if you had asthma. Punctuation exists to make meaning clear, not to help kids read.

Yet how are we to know what’s right, when wrong abounds where it shouldn’t?

The last time I saw the classic its/it’s mistake was on the BBC website, for goodness sake. I was once forced to have an interesting chat with a manager at Sainsbury’s about the educational impact of their Special Occassion (sic) range of cakes. And I recently saw a read-all-about-it newspaper board in the street inadvertently advertising the return of public executions: Father to be killed on M4.

And this relates to business how…?
Who cares about punctuation? Well, it’s not just grumpy old pedants shinning up lampposts (lamposts? lamp posts? I’ll look it up…) lamp-posts to paint out the apostrophe in CD’s on Tesco signs. How do you know your clients don’t care?

It’s a question of attention to detail. Suppose you send a letter or email that contains punctuation or grammar or spelling mistakes. You haven’t bothered to proof-read. What does that say about your fastidiousness in other aspects of your work?

By the way, I swear that wasn’t me up that Tesco sign. But I do absolutely refuse to stand in those 10 items or less queues. Why? Because I manifestly have fewer than 10 items! Ok, goodbye for this week. Where are my beta-blockers?

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember