hypocritical : talking the talk without walking the walk

March 28, 2005

Why business people speak like idiots

Since I have been experiencing so much angst about the misuse of the English language, as of late (and my cease and desist orders didn’t seem to be working), I decided to purchase a new book that would tell me I was right. The book was Why business people speak like idiots.

Why business people speak like idiotsIt’s by the same folks who brought you the little Bullfighter application that you can add to Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. It serves as a sanity check on your language, helping you remove fluffy nonsense phrases. Remember that one? A spellchecker for bull. Brilliant.

Smart folks. Good ideas. So I bought the book. And for the most part, I am very happy with it.

It’s a quick read. And at times, it’s laugh-out-loud funny for anyone who has ever had to edit copy in the corporate environment. What's more, it made me self-conscious about my own writing. Which was good. I need to feel more self-conscious.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. It’s well worth the jacket price. And it’s filled with incredibly poignant insight on not only what is bad, but why it is bad. And why we’ve fallen into such a pit of incredibly officious language. To that end, Why business people speak like idiots is very, very good.

I know. You’re feeling it aren’t you? You can sense the complaints. Yes, yes. You know me far too well. It’s a very good book, but… But I have one major complaint.

But Seth Godin and Fast Company recommended it, you say. How can there be a downside? I’m sorry to shatter your dreams, little one. But even those who provide pithy promotional quotes for books have to overlook flaws, at times. This is one of those times.

So, buck up. Steel your gaze. Here it is: Skip the examples.

I know. I know. Telling you not to read the examples is going to cause you to read them. I’m sorry. But don’t. I mean it. Do you need a time-out?

If you feel a desire to read the examples, you know what you should read instead? Read the Fight the Bull blog, because it’s very, very good and filled with the same smartass humor that makes the book a good read. But don't just take my word for it, the folks over at Brand Autopsy and PR Machine agree. And there's no way we could all be wrong.

But why can’t I read the examples, I hear you whining. And I can see you scrunching up your face. Examples, you say, bring the book to life for me. I’m lost without examples. I can’t think on my own. I’ll never be able to implement ideas without examples. They’re my lifeblood.

Not in this case, sister. In this case, the examples (especially the examples concerning the use of “humor” and those examples about livening up PowerPoint) will cause you to second-guess what heretofore has been very good guidance. It will make you think the authors aren’t as smart as you thought they were. It will make you think you’ve been duped. It will make you think you’ve fallen in with the idiots. Because the examples, bless their little hearts, are filled with exactly the same kind of useless excrement that the book is trying to help us expunge from corporate copy.

To be quite blunt, the examples tend to be trite, forced, and uninspired. The examples are bull.

But I don’t fault the authors for this. I know they were put up to it. I can almost feel them winking at me. But you know what? Most people won’t get the wink. So we’ll be subjected to a new wave of equally crappy presentations featuring their “movie analogy” examples. We will. Trust me. It happens every time one of these books captures the business imagination. Remember when pithy quotes were all the rage? Remember when clipart took a firm hold? I’m telling you.

But, as I said, I don’t fault the authors. I know the editors put them up to it. We need real life examples, the editors always say. (I know. I used to be one. And “find or create some real-life examples” was one of my favorite requests when I couldn’t find enough errors in the copy.) It’s a detention slip for making an editor feel useless. “Add some examples,” means “You’re not going to screw up the writing, so I’m going to impugn your creativity with the reader.” It’s a power thing.

When the writers are writing, doing what they do, the copy is lively and humorous. And Why business people speak like idiots soars. Full of wit and style. Really good. But when it hits the examples, it falls dead. Lifeless. And it makes you stop and wonder if you’re the idiot or they are.

That’s why you have to ignore the examples. Please. Because the authors are very good. And very smart. And very, very, very right. Something needs to be done about the language in business, today. And these bright, funny folks offer some very insightful suggestions on how to fix it. They cause you to examine the way you communicate. And they inspire you to change for the better.

They just don’t perform well under pressure outside of their element. They’re not PowerPoint designers or stand-up comedians. They’re writers.

So, read their writing. Take the theory and run with it. But ignore the examples. I mean it. Don’t make me come over there.

What did you think about Why business people speak like idiots? Do you agree with me or do you think I sound like an idiot? Both? Comment, critique, and return to see me weeping openly.


Why business people speak like idiots
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