You’re busy, I’m busy, so I keep these thoughts to a few pithy paragraphs once a month — I hope you find them both amusing and useful!
A few years back, when I was on secondment training BBC journalists, I set myself a rather agreeable assignment. I visited a local pub with my Iphone, and asked anyone who was prepared to talk to me if they knew what three particular phrases (often heard on the news) actually meant. I wonder if you do?
- Judicial Review
- Government White Paper
- Government Green Paper
The results confirmed my hunch. We journalists often forget one of our primary roles: to translate things. Many of the drinkers in that pub had a decent stab at it, and I seem to remember that a couple got two out of three spot on, but most were rather perplexed. (A judicial review, by the way, is when the courts step in to take a long hard look at a public decision; a government White Paper is what ministers want to do once they’ve sounded them out in an earlier set of ideas, their Green Paper. I looked them all up to find out.)
I think my little experiment was a wakeup call for the journalists I was training, and I think there’s a lesson in there for business, too. We don’t like to admit when we don’t know things, so we shelter behind a quiet hope that other people do. Honestly? How often have you written or approved a document for public consumption that you haven’t fully understood yourself, using phrases borrowed from someone a bit senior, in the blind hope that everyone else probably does understand them?
Here are a couple more, rather topical.
- Customs Union
Confession time: I had to google ‘screenplay’ once to find out what all those earnest people were actually winning at the BAFTAS and Oscars — the Arts Correspondents never actually used the word ‘script’. And I’m still wrestling with the difference between the Customs Union, a Customs Union, and the European Union.
It’s good to know I’m not alone thinking this. Arnando Iannuci, the actor and director, made this very point in an excellent podcast a few weeks ago. Reporters, executives, film-makers, politicians — we often speak the language we’re fluent in, and forget at our peril that not everyone in our audience has taken the advanced class. So let me end on a challenge. What phrases would you put in a Dictionary of your business’s jargon, and what would the translations be?
If you’d like a bit more from where that came from, do sign up for one tip a month here — and ask for a reduced rate if you book me for a workshop!