Free Coordinates…

For good communication…

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  • Published: Oct 7th, 2018
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And on the moon…

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Situated all too briefly in Trafalgar Square, Es Devlin’s brilliant Please Feed the Lions generated a crowd-sourced collective poem which now lives online here, care of Google Arts & Culture. It’s a rich source of lovable language that cries out to be explored, relished and indeed remixed. I encourage everyone to dive in and craft their own combinations. Here’s one I made earlier:

And on the moon

The sun and sun and night with bright array

Breathe the infinite worlds away

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  • Published: Sep 3rd, 2018
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The loving product of silence and slow time…

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Towards the tail end of the 1950s, Laurie Lee wrote lyrically and longingly On Craftsmen:

“We are a starved society living in the midst of plenty. Our possessions are many, our serenities few.

If we look at objects fashioned by the hands of craftsmen, we instinctively recognise something we need, something we may almost have forgotten existed any more – something designed to keep us human. For the handmade object is one of the last visible defences of humanism left to us, and the craftsman ministers to our most basic spiritual needs.

The materials he works in – wood, stone, clay, iron, living wools and natural hides – are still those divine materials of the earth for which there are many substitutes today, but no replacements. His products are the result not of the juddering steel press, die-stamp and reeking chemical synthesis of mass production, but of human skills and judgements which have filtered down into these pages, into this moment, through unbroken generations of eyes and hands.

It is this we are in danger of losing forever – the virtue of the handmade object, whose making yields to no factory speed-up, but is the loving product of the master craftsman, of silence and slow time. In robbing man of the use of his hands, mechanisation mutilates his spirit also.”

Zoom forward some sixty or so years, pause briefly to doff your cap to the current fascination with all things primitive tech, and linger awhile here – with a 2018 take on the enduring importance and appeal of craft, courtesy of iA’s Oliver Reichenstein. As Oliver says, “We know that what is truly good is somehow beautiful, and what is truly beautiful is somehow good”.

So long live craft, and the long-lasting loveliness it creates.

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  • Published: Aug 5th, 2018
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Calm clarity…

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Having recently returned from North Wales with another pebble for my collection…

pebble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…I was pleased to see Robert Macfarlane singing the praises of Clarence Ellis’s The Pebbles on the Beach: A Spotter’s Guide. He highlights the book’s “calm clarity… Ellis’s prose is lucid, patient in its explanations, and hospitable to all-comers. He relishes his subject across its aspects: this is an expert talking to amateurs, but also an enthusiast seeking to ignite enthusiasm in others.”

Taking the time to make things clear to all-comers, relishing your subject, not just explaining but sharing your enthusiasm – all fine principles for companies to take to heart when communicating.

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  • Published: Jul 18th, 2018
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Emotional ways…

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“Once you have a language, it’s about using it and applying it in emotional ways. That’s what makes the difference.”

Wise words from brilliant musician Jacob Collier during the course of explaining the concept of harmony in five levels of increasing complexity.

Whether words on a page or melodies in the ear, lovable language is emotional language.

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  • Published: Jun 4th, 2018
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On murky bottoms and clear heads…

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“We should always try to use language to illuminate, reveal and clarify rather than obscure, mislead and conceal…The aim must always be clarity. It’s tempting to feel that if a passage of writing is obscure, it must be very deep. But if the water is murky, the bottom might only be an inch below the surface – you just can’t tell. It’s much better to write in a way that the readers can see all the way down; but that’s not the end of it, because you then have to provide interesting things down there for them to look at. Telling a story involves thinking of some interesting events, putting them in the best order to bring out the connections between them, and telling about them as clearly as we can; and if we get the last part right, we won’t be able to disguise any failure in the first – which is actually the most difficult, and the most important.” Just a drop from the ocean of wise words in Philip Pullman’s brilliant Daemon Voices.

It’s a call for us all to take ownership of our words and strive to be as clear as possible. A call echoed by iA’s Oliver Reichenstein in his blog on tackling the toxic web: “The answer to the passive consumption of trash is the active formulation of questions, the active search for answers and the active work of putting complex knowledge and diffuse feelings into clear words.”

Clear writing takes clear thinking. It’s hard work. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a grind. On the contrary, like all good graft, it can be deeply satisfying. So where to start? Take the time to clear your head. Clear words are sure to follow.

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  • Published: May 8th, 2018
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Apple’s core…

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Back in 1997, recently reinstated CEO Steve Jobs stood up in front of his staff and gave his own inimitable take on what Apple, at the time in desperate need of a turnaround in its fortunes, at its core was all about:

“Our customers want to know who is Apple and what is it that we stand for. Where do we fit in this world? What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done. Although we do that well. We do that better than almost anybody, in some cases. But Apple is about something more than that. Apple at the core – its core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better…and that those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that actually do…”

The rest is history, the history of arguably the most loved and certainly one of the most valuable brands in the world today.

It’s a testament to being clear about your core and sticking to it, and an encouragement to all of us to be brave and think different.

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  • Published: Apr 18th, 2018
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He’s no tiger…

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On a recent trip to LA I was struck by the sheer brilliance not only of the sunshine but also of much of the communication. Our American friends seem to revel in clear lively English. Whether that’s shedding light on age-old tar pits…

goo

 

 

 

 

 

 

tiger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

or discouraging cars from driving down dusty ol’ cowboy towns…

hoofs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a confidence and playfulness in words we can all enjoy and draw inspiration from.

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  • Published: Mar 14th, 2018
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I love porridge, but…

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I love porridge, but as Philip Pullman points out, it’s not the thing to aim to cook up when you’re creating stories: “I enjoy the process of constructing a story and making it better… You have to hear what you’re writing. Because prose isn’t simply a sort of porridge with no structure. It’s got a metrical structure, and if you’re not aware of it, you damn well ought to be.”

Steve Reich, in the BBC’s Tones, Drones and Arpeggios – The Magic of Minimalism, says something very similar in terms of music making: “All great music is founded on some very strong structural development and creation. Without the marriage of the thinking process and the emotional process, then, it doesn’t matter.”

So here’s to the structure in stories. An unsung hero, it’s rarely the first thing we think of when we’re caught up in the magic of an amazing tale, not least because it’s often intentionally buried or hidden backstage. But in all the best stories it’s there, working hard behind the scenes to help bring the story to life.

 

 

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  • Published: Feb 2nd, 2018
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To boldly edit…

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It’s probably one of the most famous missions out there. We can all no doubt have a good go at reciting it, lovely split infinitive and all. But the original is a world away from the final cut – credit to the edit.

Here’s the original:

“This is the adventure of the United Space Ship Enterprise. Assigned a five year galaxy patrol, the bold crew of the giant starship explores the excitement of strange new worlds, uncharted civilizations, and exotic people. These are its voyages and its adventures.”

And the edit:

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Two versions. One presents the facts; the other paints a picture. One explains; the other excites. I know which one I’d follow.

Just goes to show how far you can go with a little bit of critical crafting.

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  • Published: Jan 20th, 2018
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Do less, obsess…

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Riffing on New Year’s resolutions, the FT’s Andrew Hill explores how doing less, rather than more, could well be the thing. But as he points out, doing less is only half the story…

“Academic Morten Hansen … cites his compatriot Roald Amundsen, who won the race to be the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911. … Prof Hansen believes Amundsen’s success came down to his obsessive focus on using only dogs and sleds to transport his team. Scott was better resourced …but the complexity of the Scott approach proved fatal. … Amundsen, who had concentrated on getting the best dogs, the best handlers and the best training, was far quicker. “By the time Amundsen reached the pole, he was more than 300 miles ahead,” writes Prof Hansen. “Amundsen had chosen one method and mastered it. He had done less, then obsessed. … You have to obsess because if you don’t you don’t have an advantage over the people who are doing more things.”

Prof Hansen studied the performance of 5,000 people and discovered that those who pursued a strategy of ‘do less, then obsess’ ranked 25 percentage points higher than those who did not embrace the practice. … The best performers in the study … matched passion with a purpose.”

How does this play out for writers? Sylvia Plath melodies the essence: “I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life.”

From crafting poetry to reaching the South Pole – there’s a lot going for obsessively focusing on one thing to excel at it. Especially when you bring brilliant specialists together in teams to combine and amplify their excellence.

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