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: 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: Jan 9th, 2015
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Once more, with feeling…

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The FT’s Michael Skapinker sets out seven lessons in management he has learnt over the last decade. One stands out for me: “Decide what your business stands for and tell everyone until you can no longer stand the sound of your voice. Every business has an ethos: the way it does things, or does things best. You need to decide what yours is, and you need to keep telling people, both inside and outside. Whether they believe you depends on how true it is and how much sense it makes.”

It also depends on how much feeling you put into the way you get it across. Combining truth with emotion is a powerful formula. So yes, never stop saying what you stand for, but make sure you put your heart into.

Once more, with feeling.

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  • Published: Jun 27th, 2014
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Poets take risks…

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Far from “conniving at its own irrelevance” by failing to engage with ordinary people, poetry continues to fight on the front lines of our lovable language. 

As George Szirtes points out, poetry’s task is not to play safe by finding “a pretty way of saying plain things”. From ee cummings’ abandoning of capitals to Tricky’s “My brain thinks bomb-like”, poets take risks – pushing and pulling the way we use and think about words into weird and wonderful new corners and possibilities, pumping new life into our tongue.

In his A Note on War Poetry, TS Eliot talks of “the abstract conception of private experience at its greatest intensity becoming universal, which we call ‘poetry’.”

Small wonder wartime yields such intense universal expression. Take Isaac Rosenberg’s twisting visceral Louse Hunting:

Nudes – stark aglisten

Yelling in lurid glee. Grinning faces of fiends

And raging limbs

Whirl over the floor one fire,

For a shirt verminously busy

Yon soldier tore from his throat

With oaths

Godhead might shrink at, but not the lice.

And soon the shirt was aflare

Over the candle he’d lit while we lay…”

“We feel poetry rather understand it,” says George Szirtes. I’d like to temper that assertion by saying we feel poetry and understand ourselves better for it. Which is why poetry will always be relevant and, for a good many of us, well loved.

 

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  • Published: Feb 11th, 2014
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Dear Andy…

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How do you brief creative folk? Mick Jagger’s letter to Andy Warhol is a great example:

“Dear Andy,

I’m really pleased you can do the art-work for our new hits album. Here are 2 boxes of material you can use, and the record. In my short sweet experience, the more complicated the format of the album, e.g. more complex than just pages or fold-out, the more fxxxxx up the reproduction and agonising the delays. But, having said that, I leave it in your capable hands to do whatever you want………..and please write back saying how much money you would like.

Doubtless a Mr Al Steckler will contact you in New York, with any further information. He will probably look nervous and say “Hurry up” but take little notice.

Love, Mick Jagger.”

I’m really pleased you can do the work… Here is some background material… I trust you… Do whatever you think best – the perfect brief.

So did Andy do a good job? Well, according to a Rolling Stone readers poll it’s one of the best album covers of all time.

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  • Published: Sep 4th, 2013
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Melodic fragments…

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I’ve just finished reading How Music Works – a mighty fine book by one of my heroes, David Byrne. It’s packed full of all kinds of good thoughts and insights – from the importance of context in any kind of creation to the need for empathy for any type of communication, from the vocal roots of song to the merits of amateurs.

Oh yes, and the multi-layered, non-hierarchical nature of acoustic culture compared to the relatively fixed views of visual culture – “In an acoustic world one senses essence, whereas in a visual universe one sees categories and hierarchies.” It’s a point that’s all the stronger coming from a dude who’s known not only for great songs but also great images – he of the totally enormous big suit and collabs with the late great Tibor Kalman.

Along the way, he describes how he came up with the lyrics for one of my favourite songs, Once In A Lifetime. “I tried not to censor the potential lyrics I wrote down. Sometimes I would sing the melodic fragments over and over, trying random lyric phrases, and I could sense when one syllable was more appropriate than another. I began to notice, for example, that the choice of a hard consonant instead of a soft one implied something, something emotional. A consonant wasn’t merely a formal decision, it felt different. Vowels, too had emotional resonances – a soft ooh and a pinched aah have very different associations.”

So the trick is to treat consonants and vowels, the building blocks of your words, as melodic fragments – for as Mr Byrne highlights, the feeling as much as the meaning is key.

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  • Published: May 17th, 2013
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Beautiful lies…

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If you want to tell the truth, tell tales. Facts alone are not enough – you need fiction. Back in 1861, Charles Reade brought this vividly to life in the opening lines of his novel The Cloister and the Hearth…

“Not a day passes over the earth, but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrows. Of these obscure heroes…the greater part will never be known…their lives and characters lie hidden from nations in the annals that record them. The general reader cannot feel them, they are presented so curtly and coldly…they are not like living breathing stories appealing to the heart…nor can he understand them…for epitomes are not narratives, as skeletans are not human figures… Here, then, the writer of fiction may be of use to the public – as an interpreter…

There is a musty chronicle, written in intolerable Latin, and in it a chapter where every sentence holds a fact. Here is told, with harsh brevity, the strange history of a pair, who lived untrumpeted, and died unsung, four hundred years ago; and lie now, as unpitied, in that stern page, as fossils in a rock. Thus, living or dead, fate is still unjust to them. For if I can but show you what lies below that dry chronicler’s words, methinks you will correct the indifference of centuries, and give those two sore-tried souls a place in your heart – for a day.”

As Charles Reade attests, to free from the deadweight of dry facts what really matters, what you really want to get across, you need imagination – that flight of the mind that can uncover and convey the hidden meanings, the true messages at the heart of your story.

For fiction is, after all, the truth wrapped up in a beautiful lie.

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  • Published: Jan 12th, 2013
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Charismatic communication…

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What’s the secret of charismatic communication – communication that’s highly enchanting and persuasive?

In an article in the FT, Alicia Clegg cites many different factors, including a dozen communication habits – from telling stories to letting your feelings show – rooted in the principles of classic rhetoric, the importance of not just talking well but listening carefully, using appealing everyday language, and being sincere.

All good stuff, but in the interests of boiling it down: write from the heart with your ears.

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  • Published: Oct 15th, 2011
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Touching the heart not the hard drive…

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A while ago while wandering the secondhand book stores on and around Charing Cross Road, I picked up for a pound a copy of the Grand Old Doyen of management thinking Peter Drucker’s Technology, Management and Society. It’s a slim volume packed with clear, compelling Druckerisms that are as true today as they were when he penned them back in 1958. Take, for example, his four fundamentals of communication:

  1. Communciation is perception
  2. Communication is expectations
  3. Communication is involvement
  4. Communication and information are totally different

In exploring these fundamentals, he imparts pearls such as the importance of talking to people in their own terms (“one has to use a carpenter’s metaphors when talking to carpenters”), the pernicious nature of information overload (“it does not enrich, but impoverishes”), and the essential contrast between information and communication – “Information is purely formal and has no meaning. It is impersonal rather than interpersonal.” Communication by contrast is human, emotional, experiential. “Indeed, the most perfect communications may be purely shared experiences, without any logic whatever.” Communication touches the heart; information resides in a hard drive.

All of which put me in mind of the following poetic wisdom from e.e. cummings: 

since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you

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