27 John Terry vs Charles Darwin

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


2 Responses to “27 John Terry vs Charles Darwin”

  1. How very true! Thankfully since your training Nielsen I wouldn’t dare write such extremely disappointing garbage – but I still see it written in ‘Engineer Speak’ … alwys brings a smile to my face!

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