Free Coordinates…

For good communication…

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  • Published: Dec 31st, 2015
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From commuovere to komorebi…

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By way of an end of year sign-off, recommended reading for the new year: the delightful Lost In Translation, An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World. It’s a treasure trove of lovable language – from commuovere (to be moved to tears by a story) to komorebi (the sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees).

As author Ella Frances Sanders says in her introduction: “In our highly connected and communicative world, we have more ways than ever to express ourselves, to tell others how we feel, and to explain the importance or insignificance of our days. The speed and frequency of our exchanges leave just enough room for misunderstandings, though, and now perhaps more than ever before, what we actually mean to say gets lost in translation. The ability to communicate more frequently and faster hasn’t eliminated the potential for leaving gaps between meaning and interpretation, and emotions and intentions are misread all too often. The words in this book may be answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask, and perhaps some you did. They might pinpoint emotions and experiences that seemed elusive and indescribable, or they may cause you to remember a person you’d long forgotten. If you take something away from this book other than some brilliant conversation starters, let it be the realisation (or affirmation) that you are human, that you are fundamentally, intrinsically bound to every single person on the planet with language and with feelings. As much as we like to differentiate ourselves, to feel like individuals and rave on about expression and freedom and the experiences that are unique to each one of us, we are all made of the same stuff. We laugh and cry in much the same way, we learn words and then forget them, we meet people from places and cultures different from our own and yet somehow we understand the lives they are living. Language wraps its understanding and punctuation around us all, tempting us to cross boundaries and helping us to comprehend the impossibly difficult questions that life relentlessly throws at us.”

Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2016, one and all.

 

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  • Published: Dec 14th, 2015
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Connecting the dots…

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Hot on the heels of being bought up by Nikkei, the FT has seen the value of declaring its shared mission: “to translate information into knowledge with timely, accurate reporting and analysis around the clock from Beijing to Brussels, Tokyo to New York and London to Johannesburg. With our global networks, we connect the dots in an increasingly interconnected world.”

While lacking the fire and zing of “Without fear and without favour”, it is nevertheless a decent statement and underlines the value of making your purpose clear for all to see and react to. As Grant Thornton UK’s chief executive Sacha Romanovitch puts it, “a strong sense of purpose helps a venture thrive.” It gives people a shared cause to rally around, a big why to spur them on, a point of guidance for day-to-day decisions and actions.

So a strong purpose is both glue and fuel – a potent mix for any organisation or endeavour.

 

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  • Published: Nov 18th, 2015
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We have flowers…

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  • Published: Oct 7th, 2015
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In the blood…

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An incisive take on tone of voice, courtesy of one of the big pop hits of the 8Os: A-Ha’s Take On Me

“We’d already written Take On Me but hadn’t recorded it…It reminded me of an advert for chewing gum that went: Juicy Fruit is a packet full of sunshine. That influenced the verse melody,” says A-Ha’s singer Morten Harket. “Paul [Waaktaar-Savoy, guitarist] had the idea of really using my vocal range in the chorus, having notes rising in octaves like Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. As for hitting that last high note, you either have wings or you don’t – the voice is not in the throat, it’s in the blood. It’s what you envisage, what you believe. ”

From the flighty falsetto of Take On Me to the rutting bellow of the red deer in Bushy Park last weekend:

Red Deer copy edit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albeit way down the scale, this character’s call was equally full of emotional conviction.

High notes or low, find your voice in your blood. Sing from the heart.

 

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  • Published: Sep 29th, 2015
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Human traffic signs…

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To the launch of the D&AD 2015 Annual and on the big screen at the event the Human Traffic Signs campaign caught my eye – not least because it gave another take on the power of emotional communication to encourage road safety.

Every three minutes someone is injured by a traffic accident in China. One in ten die. To help fight this, the campaign revolves around a simple and arresting idea: to use real accident victims to underline the dangers. To this end, we see them holding up traffic signs at the spots where their accidents actually happened.

Commissioned by Shanghai General Motors; created by Lowe China; deserved winner of a D&AD White Pencil for work that excels in effecting real and positive change in the world through creative thinking.

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  • Published: Aug 26th, 2015
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Nobody likes a tailgater…

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Driving back to London along the M1 after a wonderful week in Wales climbing mountains, canoeing lakes and chomping chips, we slowed down along a sustained stretch of 50mph roadworks.

Nothing new there for anyone familiar with the UK’s motorway network, except for the unusually characterful traffic signs. Gone were the standard blunt and bland commands to keep your speed down. In their place, conversational messages: “Nobody likes a tailgater”, “Let’s all get home safely”, “Our Dad works here”…

With their refreshingly friendly tone, they certainly caught the eye and according to a Highways England spokesman have been developed with the help of psychologists “to improve the customer experience through roadworks”. I’m not sure it’s about improving the customer experience so much as making safety messages clearer and more compelling. On that score, the ones I saw worked well. Nobody does like a tailgater, for example – not even the tailgater themselves, when they stop and think about how dumb and dangerous they have been.

But then came a message that stood out by virtue of its worrying ambiguity: “You may not always see us”. Did it mean that the road workers were not always there? We know that already – how many times have you driven along a stretch of motorway roadworks with not a worker in sight! Or did it mean that we were not allowed always to see the road workers? A rather rude mind-your-own-business message. Or did it mean that sometimes the road workers were difficult to see. Yes, but that in turn raised another question: Why aren’t road workers more visible? Worse, this sign was on the central reservation, rather than on the left by the hard shoulder – the natural home for such signs. It was all rather distracting and disconcerting – the last thing you want when driving along a motorway – and made me hanker for a much simpler old-style “drive carefully”.

So, when revamping motorway messages or indeed any other communication, it always pays to pay attention to keeping clarity while adding character.

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  • Published: Jul 16th, 2015
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The best salami…

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Long-time corporate bull basher Lucy Kellaway recently targeted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s 1,500 word email to all staff telling them about the company’s new mission statement. As well as taking aim at the language, she questions Mr Nadella’s belief that “Every great company has an enduring mission.” “This sounds good, only it is not true,” says Ms Kellaway. “I like to think that the Financial Times is a great company; we have endured 127 years without an official mission.” Yet I’d argue that the FT does have a long-standing purpose, and is all the better for it. It might not be cast in a mission statement, but it is there atop the leaders page of every single edition: “Without fear and without favour.” Indeed it was there on the first front page back in 1888: “A financial paper for the City of London, carrying the banner of Without Fear and Without Favour, cannot fail for lack of raison d’être.”

This unswerving promise put me in mind of The Economist‘s creation story: “First published in September 1843 to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”

Missions, purposes, whys – call them what you will, when crafted to galvanise in a way that rings true they are truly valuable. My own personal favourite is attributed to the old Italian Communist Party: “The best salami for everyone.” Tasty.

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  • Published: Jun 8th, 2015
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The littlest words…

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Off to the annual poetry fest at my daughter’s school, where Paul the poet urges us all to strive to “say the biggest things with the littlest words”.

This doesn’t simply mean keeping your communication short, but rather as long as it needs to be – and no longer. The poetic art of compression can lead to some pretty lengthy pieces, such as Claudia Rankine’s 160-page Citizen, which has just been shortlisted for the Forward prize.

From the three lines of a haiku to the 100 cantos of Dante’s Divine Comedy, great poetry squeezes as much as possible into the space it occupies. That’s one of the ways it packs such a punch.

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  • Published: May 12th, 2015
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Creatures of emotion and imagination…

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What made Winston Churchill a great leader?

In a National Trust feature gently plugging his newly published The Churchill FactorBoris Johnson cites his hero’s “ability to stick to his guns and to inspire people, and he was brave. He also had a love of language and could explain what was going on in a way that engaged people. We are creatures of emotion and imagination, and language is absolutely vital.”

So if you want to lead, choose your words wisely – and aim them at the heart.

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  • Published: Apr 10th, 2015
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Rewilding the language…

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On reading Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks, his father observed that he was “rewilding the language” with words ancient and local in danger of being lost forever. Words like slomp: to walk heavily, noisily (Essex). And droxy: decayed wood (Cotswolds). Eminently lovable words as rare and rich as truffles under English oak.

“This book has been coming for as long as I’ve been writing,” says Macfarlane. “I have been collecting these words for a decade or more, in the same way you might pick up pebbles on the beach. It’s been a long time in the walking and the writing.”

And well worth the waiting.

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