Month: May 2011

Shooting down corporate clichés

If you work in the digital world, you should know about The Hired Guns, a slick and useful recruiting site with some equally slick and useful blogs. Blog editor John Rambow interviewed me about the perils of workspeak; please check out “Drinking the Kool-Aid” and Other Corporate Clichés to Avoid.

Remember the World Wide Web?

Does anything go out of style more quickly than the way we describe technology? Even oldsters like me know that “information superhighway,” “personal digital assistant” and “long-distance call” are old hat. But here are a few terms I didn’t realize were obsolete:

  • Thin client: Linguistically speaking, Oracle’s desk-terminal approach has been replaced by the virtual desktop.
  • Weblogging (also microblogging): Now just blogging (and Twitter).
  • Intranet: Virtual private network, or VPN. Can also be used to describe an extranet.
  • Push technology: This evolved into RSS (for Really Simple Syndication), a term that, I suspect, will be at death’s door in a year or so.
  • Application Service Provider (ASP): Anyone for cloud computing?

The language of resistance

Recently I said to a colleague, “We need to improve distribution channels for your piece.”

The colleague heard, “She is criticizing the way I distribute my work. In fact, she dislikes my work, and has no respect for the time and effort I put into it.”

Since then, every request to this colleague has been met with a wall of resistance. The question, “Which solution works best for our system?” receives the reply, “Any solution would require change.”

“Which would be most compatible?” I ask. The reply: a cut-and-paste document containing spec information from the websites of the vendors in question.

Even the body language is defensive: crossed arms, tight smile, refusal to meet the eye. Yet when asked, this colleague says, “My first priority is to help the group.”

The language of resistance is ultimately self-defeating. If this colleague feels disrespected, there are appropriate ways to address it. Instead, because his behavior is so unpleasant, the rest of the group tries not to include him in meetings.  This fuels his paranoia and makes him even less effective.

Can you teach kids to love learning?

Seth Godin recently blogged on the subject “What’s high school for?” His suggestions included adding project management, presentation skills and leadership training to the curriculum.

I love Seth’s blog and learn a lot from his insights, but I’m betting he doesn’t have high-school-aged children. Here’s what I want my kids to learn in high school:

  1. How to write a paper. I’m not talking about a research thesis. I’d be happy to see a one-page book report that was cleanly written and properly edited.
  2. Basic organizational skills. The typical teen has 5,000 songs filed and categorized on her iPod. Yet she either forgets to write down her homework assignments, or misplaces the paper she wrote them on.
  3. How not to phone it in. My kids are pretty smart, which means they can get decent grades on papers they write at 2 a.m. the night before they’re due, based on material taken from Wikipedia. I have been unable to convince them that there is an advantage to actually researching a topic and formulating original conclusions about it.
  4. How to answer the phone and/or email. If it’s not a text, it doesn’t get their attention, no matter how many times I point out that old fogies like college admissions people and employers still use the phone.

As for the other skills Seth recommends–to tell you the truth, I’d just as soon hold off on turning them into little consultants. But I heartily concur with his suggestion that we give them “An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more.” The question is, how?

Rules that were made to be broken

Ragan has posted my latest rant, on grammar rules that were made to be broken. My favorite: it’s time to stop worshiping at the altar of Strunk & White. A lot of their style rules really suck. There. I said it.

On the subject of rule-breaking, I am also proud to announce my first piece for Salon, a  personal essay about my unusual family. It has nothing to do with business writing, but I hope you enjoy it.