Free Coordinates…

For good communication…

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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: 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: Dec 22nd, 2017
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Loopy strategies…

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Virtuous circles, wheels of fortune, magic roundabouts – the one infographic more beloved by consultants even than the hierarchical pyramid or two-by-two matrix is the strategy loop. The FT’s Andrew Hill lays into them – their beguiling neatness, their often shaky foundations and their tendency, like boats too long in the water, to gather barnacles of complications.

“Strategies and business models are not infinitely repeatable perpetual motion machines,” says Hill. “If they were, chief executives and their teams could go home.” Yes, but given that these folk are staying at their desks, the question is: what should they be doing? The answer still is crafting and communicating the best strategy – the company’s way to win. And vitally, focusing on putting it into action. Too many strategies get lost in translation – declared from on high with more or less clarity and largely ignored when it comes to employees carrying out their day-to-day tasks. In this respect and to loop back, infographics can be a very helpful tool when it comes to explaining and implementing strategy. But only if they’re properly rigorous and compelling.

So long live loops, so long as they’re in service of strong strategies.

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  • Published: Nov 13th, 2017
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Build a good name…

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Back in 2007, I co-created and ran an executive day for the Henley Management College. It focused on how to enhance reputation through core purpose. The gist: build your good name (your reputation) with stories that pivot around your big why (your core purpose).

A good few years on from that enjoyable day, and reputation, more than ever, is in the air. Purpose, too, and of course stories. Rohan Silva bigs up purpose by way of his favourite quote from business – Hewlett Packard co-founder David Packard’s: “Many people assume, wrongly, that the purpose of a company is to make money… a group of people get together and exist as an institution we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately — they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental.”

Prompted by Taylor Swift’s release of Reputation, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney explores the r-word in the FT: “The public persona that we present to the world grows ever more significant. In the digital age reputation is inescapable. Not a day goes by without our judging something or being judged ourselves.”

But I’d like to leave the last word to the inestimable Patti Smith, who tells this story: “When I was really young, William Burroughs told me: ‘Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work, and make the right choices, and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.”

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  • Published: May 13th, 2016
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Once upon a plumber…

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Riffing on the corporate storytelling thing in her characteristically acerbic comms-weary way, Lucy Kellaway makes the anti-case: “the storytelling craze has gone too far.”

Yes, there are a lot of pretty awful attempts to tell corporate stories out there, along with a burgeoning mini-industry of people proclaiming stories to be the new ‘most valuable corporate asset’, and any number of job ads and titles purloining the s word for a sprinkle of zeity geistness. But this does not mean that storytelling in business is any less important, just that it could do with being done a whole lot better.

Indeed, as Lucy Kellaway says: “Stories in the right place are an excellent thing…We all like stories because we like emotion, and because they are easy for our befuddled brains to follow. They liven things up. They cheer us up. They can inspire us… [but]…The trouble with stories is that to have any effect they have to be good ones – and most people are rubbish at telling them.”

To reinforce her case, Lucy Kellaway claims that plumbers, along with dentists, are mercifully story-free professions: “Plumbers don’t tell stories because they are too busy unblocking your toilet.” But of course, because plumbers, like us, are only human, they do. Especially when, like Charlie Mullins, they have built a great big plumbing business brand: Pimlico Plumbers.

A bog standard story is no doubt not worth the paper it’s written on, but a brilliant story is unquestionably priceless. Indeed, I’d argue that it is just about the most powerful (and pleasurable) thing there is.

 

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  • Published: Dec 23rd, 2014
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In praise of pad and pen…

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As a lifelong fan of writing things down with pad and pen*, I was heartened to read that this age-old method has the edge over simply tipping and tapping away at a keyboard when it comes to actually thinking about things.

“It turns out that writing involves a completely different process to typing,” says Charles Wallace in the FT. He quotes Daniel J Levitin, a professor of psychology and behavioural neuroscience at McGill University in Canada: “Writing things down requires more concentration and deeper processing than typing… Deeper processing means you are more likely to remember and encode the information… Deeper encoding allows for the linking of the concept to other concepts that you have deep in memory.”  

So if it’s not too late, ask Santa to pop a pad and pen into your stocking this festive season.

*My trusty Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint extra fines.

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  • Published: Sep 16th, 2014
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Confusing marks…

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I prefer not to join the noisy critiquing of the misuse of English in and around business (amply covered by the likes of the FT’s Lucy Kellaway among others). I also have an enduring affection for HP, one of my earliest clients who, I fear, has somewhat lost its Way in the past few years. But given that I had so recently sung the praises of the humble comma, I felt compelled to comment on the company’s strange use of the mark in its current run of UK print ad headlines:

Flex, when in flux. (Flex when in flux would do much better.)

Move, able. (Clever clever nonsense.)

Dream big, data. (I guess HP is talking to companies about big data rather than to data about dreaming big, but that’s not what that comma says.)

These from a campaign which also uses the admirably distinctive and eye-catching words Thwart, Foil, Stymie and Crimp as headlines in other ads.

So come on HP, less of the confusing marks and more of the lovable language.

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  • Published: Jan 28th, 2014
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The return of purpose…

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Good to see the FT’s Andrew Hill picking up on the return of purpose as a key factor in corporate success. Lauded back in the mid-nineties by Collins and Porras in Built To Last, their mighty fine exploration of the most succesful visionary companies, the P word was apparently on the lips of many a CEO at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. “The most important thing is to focus on purpose,” said Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan. “You have to be a purpose-driven organisation,” said EY’s Mark Weinberger.

While purpose seems to be back in fashion, there is according to Andrew Hill some uncertainty over what we actually mean by the term. However, bearing in mind the essentially social nature of business, when you root purpose in the common interest, the shared endeavour, the collective action of a company, rather than, say, individualistic notions of why you go to work every day, the fog lifts.

Purpose is simply what we are all here to do together. Express that clearly and with feeling and you will have a powerful reason for people to work with you and buy from you and an enduring guide for good actions. 

Andrew Hill highlights a great example in his article. When Ellen Kullman, chief executive of DuPont, asked a contract worker on the Kevlar production line what he was doing, he replied: “We’re saving lives.”

Saving lives, not just making bulletproof vests. A good purpose is indeed powerful stuff.

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  • Published: Jan 7th, 2014
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The secret law of writing…

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Prompted by its inclusion in Michael Skapinker’s list of non-business books to inspire managers, I reached for my copy of The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers (another mighty fine book on writing given to me by my Dad):

“It is true that there are rules of grammar and syntax, just as in music there are rules of harmony and counterpoint. But one can no more write good English than one can compose good music merely by keeping the rules…

The golden rule is not a rule of grammar or syntax. It concerns less the arrangement of words than the choice of them. “After all,” said Lord Macaulay, “the first law of writing is this: that the words employed should be such as to convey to the reader the meaning of the writer.” The golden rule is to pick those words and to use them and them only. Arrangement is of course important, but if the right words are used they generally have a happy knack of arranging themselves. Mathew Arnold once said: “People think that I can teach them style. What stuff it all is. Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.””

So, melding Macaulay’s first law with Arnold’s only secret, the secret law of writing is: Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can for your reader.

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  • Published: Nov 8th, 2013
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To begin at the beginning…

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To begin at the beginning is, next to ending at the end, the whole art of writing; as for the middle you may fill it in with any rubble that you choose. But the beginning and the end, like the strong stone outer walls of mediaeval buildings, contain and define the whole,” says Hillair Belloc in On Nothing and Kindred Subjects.

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story,” says Chekhov.

Two top takes on what goes into good storytelling, and what stays out.

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