Why do business people speak like idiots?

Before you hit send on that next memo, or deliver that speech or announcement to your staff, or write that next PR release – check for bullshit!

Ok look at your last piece of prose: did you include any of these words “Best of breed, centre of excellence, paradigm shift, results driven, socialise”?

Fear and Peer pressure it seems is the main cause for most business people to use this strange version of the English language.

I have just finished reading “Why business people speak like idiots” a book authored by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway & Jon Warshawskey.

Whether it’s memos that say nothing, sloppy boring presentations or jargon overload these guys take the knife to all of it. Their take is: this predictable-PC dialect, the business world has fallen into is a waste of time. Hell, we’ve become immune to these empty, generic messages. And as a result no one really listens any more.

The worst enemy of all – CUT PASTE and BLOAT – be careful with that next power point you prepare and how you use these features. Templates kill the message, and cut and pasted templated messages are the worst.

A couple of my favourite tips were reiterated in this book:

  • Stand for something – avoid the curse anonymity – staying low may keep you safe but will not help you get noticed and achieve stuff
  • People love imperfection – ums and ah’s are ok. Overly scripted messages fail. Check out my Rework blog post- “no one likes plastic flowers”
  • Avoid the tedium trap – boring, boring, boring – spice thinks up
  • Stories work – tell a story about a customer or something relevant to your topic – people get it.

Theory vs Story telling:
Brian and team give a great comparison as to the world’s acceptance of storytelling versus theory. Compare the book sales numbers on the two books on transformational change below.

  • “Leading change” by John P Cotter – 210,000 copies sold 2003 – Theory
  • “Who moved my cheese” by Spenser Johnson – 14 Million copies sold 2003  – Story

More Tips from this entertaining and informative book:

  • Short presentations pack punch – straight talkers get more credit
  • Short sentences are more memorable
  • One syllable words build momentum – big words don’t impress
  • Bull has an aroma – and it isn’t exactly channel 5. Say it as it is – if its bad news front up to it and take ownership
  • Avoid the obscurity trap – don’t let fluff and verbosity get in the way of the real message
  • Avoid stupid generic photos or clip art

The good news is that it is not that hard to stand out from the pack, by just telling it as it is and using simple words.

Check out Winston Churchill’s famous speech to the House of Commons June 4 1940, below.

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender”

How many big words does Winston use ? 

If you are after a light read and are willing to join the no bullshit movement get your hands on a copy.
Thanks for the book Motive8 team – a great read.

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Inspired by: NO, Inconvenience and Only 4 chapters Left

 Last week I attended the KEA World Class NZ – Inspire morning … here’s 4 of my take away’s

1: What are you doing with your 6 remaining chapters?

“Your life is broken into 5 year chapters” so what are you doing with your remaining chapters?  
This was one of the challenges tabled by Derek Handley – Hyperfactory fame, at this week’s Inspirational World Class NZ workshop. Derek along with a bunch of other world class New Zealanders certainly did a great job of revving the room up.

Break your life down into your big achievements and missions. Certainly in my life the 5 year blocks hold true. It seems it takes five years to do stuff, whether it’s and achievement of learning or accomplishment or simply recognising you’re on the wrong track.  According to Wikipedia in NZ the average life expectancy is male 78.43 years Female 82.39 years.  So what’s on your chapter – to do list: things to have achieved or accomplished?

The scary thought then at 47, I only have 6 chapters left, or 6 things to achieve. Take this into the business environment then perhaps my list needs to be reduced to 4.

2: Opportunities never arrive at convenient times?

Claudia Batten – Victor & Spoils message was;  “grab opportunities as they arise, but be warned the big opportunities always arrive at the worst possible time.”

Anyone in the new media business interested in the transformation of the design agency into the model world of social media and crowdsourcing check out victor and spoils intro flash … it’s got a great punch line …  victorsandspoils.com/

3: Play to win not lose and say NO

Listed on Forbes as the 10th most powerful women in sports – Sarah Hobbs (President at Gatorade) was inspirational. Talk about chapters, my guess is this super woman has a chapter of reduced size.

She told a great courageous story of turning around Gatorade and going back to the core of your business. And saying NO to opportunities that fall outside your scope.  Just because you can do something does not mean you should.

4: Watch out real farmers – the virtual world is out performing you

Another Derek Handley wakeup calls came, when he referenced the market cap (value) of Farmville (the social media virtual farm) compared to NZ’s Fonterra ( a real farm). And that Farmville with virtual cows, was doing better than Fonterra with real cows!

Congratulations KEA a fantastic and inspirational morning at World class New Zealand – Inspire day. I am looking forward to the video replay … So much to take in and hell I have only mentioned 3 of the great 7 speakers.

PS: Kea have a service to help NZ businesses access their powerful offshore network of  talent. Contact them direct www.keanewzealand.com

Forget Motivating Staff With Incentives – Pink Drive Review

Are your staff on board or not?   Do a quick test – sit back and listen to how your staff talk about your company. Is it  in terms of “we” or “they” – this is a good barometer as to whether you have engaged your staff or are controlling them.

The old days of control, carrots and stick have gone – they simply do not work. In fact research shows giving people extra rewards for work is not a way to motivate them in the long run. It works the first time, then they expect it and when it doesn’t come they get de-motivated.

I drew a parallel for you cyclists out there, it’s like eating chocolate on a long hard ride, a great sugar rush  that is followed by a crash in energy.

This is not to ignore a basic “baseline reward” (remuneration) that people get for doing their job. But we need to hunt down how we inspire the inner drive in people.

Enter the new age of autonomy, mastery and purpose…

I have just spent the weekend reading Daniel Pink’s Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us.  Many of the business owners I deal with, are often faced with the thought “how do I get that extra drive out of staff?”

Pink questions the age-old management philosophy of carrot and stick. He provides some great scientific examples of how people behave or more importantly how traditional management approaches simply do not work. “So here we have a major mismatch between what science knows and how business behaves”.  I drew a parallel for you cyclists out there, it’s like eating chocolate on a long hard ride, great sugar rush that is followed by a crash in energy.

Pink presents an evolutionary approach to how people are motivated – i.e we have lived in two worlds and are about to join a third. Motivation 1.0 – world of basic survival, Motivation 2.0 based on fact that humans respond to rewards and punishments and now we have entered the world of 3.0 – Motivation 3.0  is based on the theory that humans have a third drive – to learn, to create, and to better the world. For me it was like the next step from the Maslow’s hierarchy theory. By the way like DOS motivation 1.0 and 2.0 are no longer supported!

Pink advocates that we need to focus more on unleashing the inner drive – that place we get to when we are doing thing that we enjoy and have purpose – that state of flow.

What he advocates is that we need to create an environment of:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery – the desire to get better at something that matters
  • Purpose – the yearning to do something in the service of something larger than ourselves

In practise, we need to find ways to let people harness what matters to them, rathing than ordering creation or fun!

To spark creativity in teams Atlasian ran FedEx Days – like Fedex they had to deliver something overnight. So all the staff were given complete freedom to work on anything they liked as long as it delivered something finished the next day. After initial trials Atlasian now give staff freedom to spend 20% of their time on stuff that is not part of their normal tasked job.

The book suggest caning those “fun off sites” and replace them with “fed Ex days” hell most people like what they do let them “create” with their skills. An interesting example was given – Artist’s best works are never the commissioned ones. Another interesting point is that generally people waste at least 10% of their working day anyway.

Gmail and google news, all came about by giving staff free creativity time.

Drive is one of those books that doesn’t give you the answers, as much as it inspires you to rethink your world both from a personal and business perspective.

Questions that came to me reading Pink’s Drive were:

  •  Do you earn your money from a job or your vocation?
  • How much of your time are you operating in your flow zone?
  • What are you doing in your business to ensure you are creating flow, unleashing the inner drive in your people, rather than using carrots and sticks?

So my verdict … not good enough to topple a book of  my  top 5 book  list.  Why, too slow to start and not enough practical takeaways, but certainly a great thought provoking book just the same.

Thanks Simon for putting the link to this video in comments on this post

If you are  looking at how to best capture human capital for your business then get a copy. Bottom line it has changed the way I think, I sense as I reflect on it I may change my rating.

post ed note: It definitely rates in my top 10 books, although post Simon connecting me to the video I actually recommend people watch the great RSA animates video version of the book. Now posted above.