Archive for February, 2010

27 John Terry vs Charles Darwin

Posted in Uncategorized on FebruaryThu, 25 Feb 2010 23:41:20 +01004125pm10 24 PMpThu, 25 Feb 2010 23:41:20 +010041Thursday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

If you ever doubted the validity of evolutionary theory – Darwin, Dawkins etc – then you only need to listen to some of the most highly revered members of our society to have your faith in that theory renewed. I refer, of course, to Professor John Terry and his fellow academicals of the green sward, who repeatedly confirm the philosophical construct that they in particular, and therefore by association the rest of us in general, are descended from fish. Because frequently at the end of the day they are gutted.

Other souls will tell you they are over the moon. All the while denying any missing link to cows among their family members, or a liking for green cheese. Their version of events can be discounted on grounds of excessive optimism.

We are living in the last days of Rome. We are spoilt and sybaritic and we know it. We recline on tasselled couches of indigo velveteen and press buttons that summon visions at will. We are the peanut-munching crowd. Thumbs down on the philosophers, goodnight Cicero. Thumbs up to bread and circuses and wall-to-wall tittering celebrities and brainless footballers who are paid truly obscene amounts of money for chasing a ball around like little dogs and for whom ethics is a place near London with great nightclubs.

You’re in a good mood this week.

I apologise. It’s just that I’ve had a pretty tough few days, what with worrying over how poor Professor Terry, Archbishop Kay and Old King Cole will cope with the split. The split infinitive, I mean.

What? What split infinitive?
Now that genial TV host Vernon Kay and international superstars Terry and Cole (stop sniggering at the back) have been introduced to the idea that texting sex messages and photographs to anyone female in Chelmsford isn’t exactly the partnership their wives were hoping for, they’ve checked in for six long days of remedial therapy.

But this is no ordinary retreat. Not one where you sit around a campfire with Amy Winehouse, singing songs and discussing why crack hasn’t been a better friend to you in the past. This is no picnic with Ant and Dec giggling like marionettes. This is punishment and instruction. This is a total mental sauna. This is a forceful regimen that addresses the power of the frontal lobe (don’t look for it in your underpants, boys) so that the discipline of grammar makes a better man of you.

For the next six days, Ashley, JT and Vernon will learn everything they didn’t learn at school. First, the naming of parts – verbs, nouns, asbos, adjectives. Second, how most of these parts work together harmoniously in a sentence. Third, wait a minute what’s a sentence again? Fourth, forget about split infinitives, they’re as useful as your auntie’s antimacassars. Fifth, why does any of this matter?

Good question. Getting your point over’s what matters, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. If we are toads and the best we can do is stick our tongues into any available crevice. There are no official statistics on this, but it is not architecture or technology or politics or Morris dancing that describes what differentiates humans from the other vertebrates: it is language.

It is the extraordinary flexibility of available vocabulary, used simply for the most part and sometimes subtly, that makes our thoughts vivid in someone else’s mind. This is the human triumph. What we mean when we talk about good communication is the ability to convey an idea in a way that actually engages other people and makes them think.

Saying we are gutted or over the moon is a crime against humanity because it’s a crime against language. Using trashy second-hand clichés picked up like teenage fag-ends off the street tells whoever we’re talking to that we prefer not to really think, prefer not to genuinely engage. We’re already too busy thinking trash so any old pre-made phrase will do.

And how this relates to business is…?
Suppose I am a potential client and I invite you to build me a school. I am really concerned that the children in my care benefit from new opportunities. They come from pretty deprived backgrounds some of them, but new educational thinking suggests that we can improve their chances by designing schools that respond better to the way children learn. So I ask you via an Invitation to Tender to tell me how you would approach that challenge. Suppose this, amongst other verbiage, is what you send me in reply:

Our wealth of experience in value engineering state-of-the-art innovative solutions in a wide spectrum of disciplines is embedded in our culture and enables us to hit the ground running to ensure that our clients receive highly specific best practice guidance at all times in the interface between ourselves, our integrated supply chain partners and all relevant third parties, including, but not limited to, the key stakeholders involved.

As a potential client, this insults my intelligence. What I infer from this coil of nasty management-speak, this steaming pile of corporate cliché, is that whoever wrote it does not have an original or genuine thought in their head. They certainly have a bucket of snake oil behind their back. But personally I am (… how shall I put it?) extremely disappointed, because I was hoping to be excited by what you had to say.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember


26 A reason to have faith in the younger generation

Posted in Uncategorized on FebruaryFri, 12 Feb 2010 10:50:46 +01005012am10 24 AMpFri, 12 Feb 2010 10:50:46 +010050Friday 09 by nielsendinwoodie

“When you’ve finished that letter, Miss Remington, send a telex to the Nairobi office and collect my safari suit from the dry cleaners.” Miss Remington loaded a carbon paper triplicate onto the roller and set her fingers to work. That sweltering afternoon in the typing pool, her horn-rims sat heavily on the bridge of her sweet thin nose. My God, when are they going to invent the fax? she sighed.

It is one of the more delicious contrivances of our age – the information age, according to palaeontologists – that all it takes on a Sunday evening of casual eBay activity is for your home wireless broadband to begin flashing a trillion nanoelectrons through the dark fibres and suddenly you arrive, in half an eyeblink, back in 1972.

Back to the days of hopeful youth when, wild-eyed with discovery and oblivious to all but the latest Cream LP, you cast the mores of your parents onto the jokepile of history, along with the mantlepiece trinkets, the porcelain spaniel, the little Chinaman pulling a rickshaw turned in matte black wire.

Now you spend hours on eBay trying to find that trash again. Ok, not the sausage dog draught excluder that didn’t quite make it into the Design Museum. But, as the past disappears further down the tunnel, you find yourself wondering whatever happened to this or that piece of tat, each one a cipher of who you were back then.

And there is no lost object more precious than my old typewriter. An Olivetti Lexikon 80, heavy as a bus and never a line out of kilter. It came home one day when the typing pool in my father’s office went electric and changed my life. A teenager with a sudden purpose, I typed volumes of sleuth stories and heartfelt poems that the world is still not ready to accept. The steady mechanical resistance of the keys helped regulate my racing thoughts. Tippex came in paper strips not bottles.

Look, if this is just some meander down memory lane, I’ve got other places to go.
Point taken. My theorem approaches. It occurred to me, watching my own teenage children this weekend engage in personal text message marathons and five hour sessions updating their 1,382 close friends on Facebook with regard to how Sophie Pluke Year 12 is like well minging, that never before in civilisation has so much writing been produced. So much writing!

Not exactly Shakespeare though, is it?

Well, it is the privilege of every generation to accuse the next of intellectual weakness and low moral standards. Has been since Cain, if not Abel, turned out so wrong. Certainly, Sophie Pluke is the cause of Broken Britain. Yet, however linguistically crp our children’s txt mssgs are, it cannot be gainsaid: the kids is suddenly all about writing.

The last time young people were writing as prolifically as this, they were called Shelley and Byron, not Chel and Ryan. It’s a miracle. It happens only twice a millennium.

Naturally, my theorem acknowledges that quantity and quality traditionally exist in inverse proportion to each other. It is true that my daughters and their pals do not have the benefit of a lumbering typewriter to add thoughtfulness to their thoughts – their fingers dart over miniature keypads like electric eels. But the quality of their writing may improve, as they come to invent the CVs they’ll need if they’re ever to find a job.

Meanwhile shouldn’t we just be heartened that people still find words are valuable in their lives? Our children are clamouring to communicate, and this should not be taken for granted. Remember the recent alternatives – in descending primate order – grunting Goths, glued-up punks, hippies stoned out of their tree.

And how this relates to business is…?
Interesting how the demand for training at work changes with the times. In the 80s, you couldn’t run enough courses in negotiation skills (“Got any dirty tricks, mister? How do I screw the other side?”). In the 90s, it was back-to-back workshops on constructive teamwork and partnering (“We are delighted to collaborate…”). For the past ten years, communication has been the must-know.

Now that Blackberrys have descended and taken over the planet… forcing humans in a two-hour stand-off today on Wall St to prove they know the alphabet… hacks like me are suddenly being quizzed on life’s burning issues, such as: what’s a comma really for? Who’d have thought it? Rampant Nanotechnology Heralds Resurgence of Semi-colon Debate. You read it here first.

Footnote: What happened to my old Olivetti Lexikon? Like a fool enthralled by the space race, I dumped it in a skip during the optimistic purchase of an early Amstrad computer, when Alan Sugar was an attractive foetus. Confirmation of personal stupidity. And then, six months ago, I saw my old typewriter for the first time in twenty years. Where? Sitting majestically on a plinth in the Design Museum. No sausage dogs in sight.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember