By Timothy Askew; reprinted from Inc. with the kind permission of Timothy Askew.
Author Clare Boothe Luce once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Simplicity is one of the greatest and most elusive virtues I am constantly seeking as an entrepreneur, salesman and human being. It is a skill I constantly look to improve on.
How do you speak and write with greater and greater succinctness and clarity, while making a precise, eloquent expression of your value and your brand?
As anyone who reads this column knows, I love words. It is almost a sensual pleasure to reach for evocative and elegant words each week to get closer to any reality I want to explicate. I’ve never thought that business writing needs to be colorless, dull, or undemanding–yet it should be simple and to the point. So, how to solve this conundrum?
I think one way we do it is by eliminating the cliched and obvious. Authentic, interesting writing is personal. It doesn’t overly rely on what I call “herd” words–that is, words and phrases that are overused. New words and concepts crop up all the time and before you know it everybody and their granny are using them to the point of eye-rolling nausea.
Bryan A. Garner, Distinguished Research Professor of Law at SMU, did a wonderful series of short, useful essays on business writing for the Harvard Business Review a couple of years ago. It was about the exact problem I’m talking about. He began with a very funny first paragraph made up of nothing but the types of words and overused phrases he mocks. Here it is.
“It’s mission-critical to be plain-spoken, whether you’re trying to be best-of-breed at outside-the-box thinking or simply incentivizing colleagues to achieve a paradigm shift in core-performance value-adds. Leading-edge leveraging of your plain-English skill set will ensure that your actionable items synergize your global-knowledge repository.”
Garner has reached out to his Twitter followers to concoct a concatenation of these words. He calls it his “index expurgatorius.” Here it is. (Do you recognize yourself in any of these? I sure do.)
actionable ~ CYA ~ incent ~ monetize ~ pursuant to ~ strategic dynamism ~ agreeance ~ drill down ~ incentivize ~ net-net ~ recontextualize ~ synergize ~ as per ~ ducks in a row ~ impactful ~ on the same page ~ repurpose ~ think outside the box ~ at the end of the day ~ forward initiative ~ kick the can down the road ~ operationalize ~ rightsized ~ throw it against the wall and see if it sticks ~ back of the envelope ~ going forward~ let’s do lunch ~ optimize ~ sacred cow ~ throw under the bus ~ bandwidth ~ go rogue ~ let’s take this offline ~ out of pocket ~ scalable turnkey ~ bring our A game ~ guesstimate ~ level the playing field ~ paradigm shift ~ seamless integration ~ under the radar ~ client-centered ~ harvesting efficiencies ~ leverage ~ parameters ~ seismic shift ~ value-added ~ come-to-Jesus ~ hit the ground running ~ liaise ~ per ~ smartsized ~ where the rubber meets the road ~ core competency ~ impact ~ mission-critical ~ push the envelope ~ strategic alliance ~ win-win ~ awesome
Bryan concludes his essay with this: “Bizspeak may seem like a convenient shorthand, but it suggests to readers that you’re on autopilot, thoughtlessly using boilerplate phrases that they’ve heard over and over. Brief, readable documents, by contrast, show care and thought–and earn people’s attention.”
I think that sums the case up rather nicely. Thanks, Bryan.
Tim Askew is the owner of sales firm Corporate Rain International and a member of the Inc. Business Owners Council. He has several advanced degrees, and has been a tennis pro, actor, opera singer, Broadway producer, dishwasher, bartender, minister, and college assistant dean. Askew is the author of the book The Poetry of Small Business (available on Amazon). @TimothyAskew