29 Shut up, Matron

As we move from a pleasingly frozen winter to a refreshingly balmy spring – and as the UK descends into a quagmire of nostalgic national strikes – there is much to enjoy in this return to the certainties of the past.

We now see that climate change was an elaborate fabrication, and that the grit of social strife remains our perpetual oyster.

There’s no denying that when Unite grounds your plane and the RMT cancels your train for Easter, it’s hard to throw your hat in the air with joy. Yet at least in the West we can contest authority, a privilege not known everywhere.

It’s a privilege we exercise remarkably little. Milgram’s electric shock experiment (recently revamped on French TV to much scandale, the original Yale account is worth googling) is only one of many demonstrations of how we happily kowtow to anything in a white coat.

Voices of authority corral us constantly. Not least on public transport every morning, as Matron scrubs our ears with a hefty carbolic of patronising announcements – “Do try to keep all personal items with you at all times” – as if we’re simpletons whose conkers keep falling out of our pockets. We hear it ten times an hour, and we don’t complain.

Well, it’s official, innit? We got to listen.
Not always. A friend recently told me how he’d attended a course where “some consultant yakked for hours like bullshit bingo was going out of fashion.” The consultant in the role of authority figure informed my friend, who is a surveyor, that he wasn’t a surveyor but an agent of change. How did you respond? I asked. “I punched him in the throat.”

I wish. Consultants who wrap expensive advice in a flannel of second-hand management-speak should be set upon a ducking stool above a vat of vinegar.

So here to redress the balance on behalf of the rest of my profession is the first of an eight-part series that tells you some commonsense stuff you already know about winning work. First: why it pays to just answer the question.

If a client is asking how you will control quality on their project, they’re not asking for a ten-page treatise on the philosophy of procurement methodology. They just want to know how you’ll guarantee quality for them.

Resist the temptation to answer the question you want to answer, instead of the one in front of you. Don’t talk around the topic of the question. Just answer the bloody question.

Sorry, was that too obvious? You knew that, didn’t you? Voltaire, that complicated mind, that great authority, got it wrong: commonsense is in common supply.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages that people remember


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