Every communication you send is an advertisement for you and your own brand. You are your own Madison Avenue Advertising Agency on the Internet, and maybe without all the smoking, copious alcohol, and other excesses (or not). You are your own Mad Man. Your communications accumulates over a life time, and you need be vigilant. I can still find communications I wrote on listserves (pre-blogs, pre-forums) back in the late 1980′s. Every recorded communication is a potential public communication since it only takes about 3 clicks to move it from one media site to another (e-mail to FaceBook, twitter to LinkedIn, SMS to WordPress, etc.). In fact, every twitter is being placed into the Library of Congress (http://read.bi/VX68Iv), so it is in essence etched in stone.
It brings us to 3 simple rules.
- Rule #1: Never write something you wouldn’t show your mother.
- Rule #2: Write not to be understood, but to be not misunderstood.
- Rule #3: Less is more or “be terse and pithy”
Rule #1 does assume your mother is a reasonable well mannered person, but basically it is important to be aware your communications can end up being read by anyone from a 7 year old on the Internet to a pious leader of nations. You really don’t know the eventual destination, even if you just sent it to one person. I’m not saying don’t ever be provocative, swear, or even be adult in your communication, but at least make sure it fits. Using language appropriate to a rowdy bar in a business communication just shows a lack of imagination Making characters in a rowdy bar sound like Sunday school teachers is stupid.
Simply, make the communication fit the situation and hope you get quoted well enough that someone can understand your choice of language. I’m also working on being more positive in communication. Criticism often can get amplified by the reader especially if they don’t know you or don’t know the whole situation. It is a personal goal of mine this year. I generally use the rule of “if I’m questioning the language, tone, or word, I probably shouldn’t be using it.”
Rule #2 came from my high school English teacher, Mrs. Leslie Bush, and requires discipline and practice to make sure you are not misunderstood. We all try to write clearly. We all try get our point across, but sometimes it just gets lost or it can easily be misunderstood. Understanding how to properly use grammar helps. Understanding when to use “emotional” words (see rule #1) and the connotation of words is important.
It is very different to say “it was a terrible mess” and to say “it was an abortion”. Regardless of your political bias, “abortion” is loaded word with lots of connotations that vary based on your own bias. That is the problem with emotions – no one experiences them the same way. If you call upon emotions and loaded words, make damn sure it is the impact you want and doesn’t overshadow your message.
Rule #3 of being Terse and Pithy also came from Mrs. Bush. Thank you Mrs. Bush. Be direct. Be succinct. Finding the right word can be everything. Use only the words you need, and not one more. Don’t introduce complexity for complexities sake. No one will think your smarter because you totally lost them in your complex sentence structure and $40K words. Hemingway taught us you can write with simple words and in short sentences and it can still become a masterpiece (sorry, I still don’t like or get Old Man and the Sea and I even like fishing).
Rule #3 really is the writing equivalent of Occam’s Razor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam’s_razor) which simply states the simplest answer to the problem is generally (always) the best. It is something I see most CIO’s and CTO’s trying to apply to all of their worlds. Much of the SaaS movement is about finding a simple outcome based solution for business problem. In this case, you should be driving the reader towards the right conclusion by the shortest path possible.
If you follow these 3 rules, at least for more business and technical writing you may find you will: 1) avoid some sticky situations; 2) be able to better communicate in a written format; and, 3) be able to motivate others to see the world from your view. After, most of the time when we put words on paper, or into the Internet, we are creating an Advertisement to compel others and over time, we are accumulating our own brand. We are the Mad Men of our own lives.
Next week, I’ll start discussing a more technical topic of “SAP Enterprise Application Strategy in the Era of SAP HANA, Infrastructure, Platforms, Software and Everything as a Service” which I’ll be presenting at SAP Sapphire in Orlando, FL on Wednesday May 15 from 4:15 PM – 5:15 PM.