2006-01-30T02:57:58.320-05:00Gary Radford said he was going to be pointing the Executive Lectures students to my blog, so I thought I'd share this item, recently forwarded to me by a young colleague who, like so many of us, is still struggling with what he wants to be when he grows up.
2006-01-30T02:46:33.540-05:00The first session of the 2006 Executive Lectures Series at Fairleigh Dickinson University went off beautifully on Saturday. The speakers were all members of the board of corporate advisors for the MA Program in Corporate & Organizational Communications:
2005-12-30T07:31:04.026-05:00The 2006 Schering-Plough Executive Lectures schedule is available. The series is part of the MA program in corporate & organizational communications at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Speakers will include journalists, marketing and PR executives, academics, and others. Questions about the series or the MA program can be directed to me or to Dr. Gary Radford, director of the program.
2005-12-30T07:09:38.030-05:00I just discovered that Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance can be read for free online in its unabridged form. I keep hearing that the book continues to sell millions of copies every year, but so many people I meet in my professional life have never heard of it. This can only mean the folks who most need to hear what Pirsig is saying aren't. I don't know how many of these "busy" people will have the patience for a book of this length and depth that doesn't offer a quick fix for their professional and personal problems, but I do know that they talk a lot (mostly very superficially) about quality, and Quality (yes, with a capital "Q") is what ZAMM is all about.
2005-12-29T06:45:45.886-05:00The winding down of a year is a good time for summing up one's thoughts and impressions of the old year and aspirations for the new...I started this blog in February 2005 to "help me get my thoughts in order about this field I've devoted 20 years of my life to, as well as provide a useful forum for others who are interested in communication theory, corporate and organizational communication, journalism and media studies." I started it as I was in the homestretch of writing my thesis; beginning a new job after two years of observing the corporate world from the sidelines while completing my coursework and serving as an advisor to the MA program in corporate and organizational communications at FDU; learning a new industry (telecom) after nearly two decades in the world of financial services; and growing another year older and experiencing the joys and difficulties of being a parent of a teenager and two pre-teens (talk about "communication challenges"!)2005 has given me a lot to think about, only a small part of which has made it into this blog. Translating my academic voyage in the world of communication theory back into daily corporate practice has not always been easy. The process has generated a few answers, but it has led to better, more interesting questions, including:Is there any fundamental difference between corporate communication and human communication? Is the phrase "corporate communication" meaningful, or does it muddy the very specific, practical concepts of marketing, media relations, investor relations, government relations, etc.?Can communication ever be strategic, or are the two notions antithetical? This is a big one, as I've come to believe that "communication"--correctly understood--entails a willingness to give up some amount of control, while so much of what we call "corporate communication" typically involves "managing messages."What is the relationship between communication and ethics? Another big one. In an age of eroded authority, what is ethics, if not saying what you mean and behaving in a manner that is consistent with what you say?These and other questions won't be easily answered, which brings me back to why I started this blog. I've described this as "An attempt to get beyond the 'discursive structures' of the university and the corporation and find out what the two have to offer each other." My work with FDU has been a major support and inspiration in this effort. Interacting with graduate students who are either beginning to explore this field or who have been in it for some time and (like me) have begun looking for a deeper understanding of what they've been doing and why has been invigorating (what an awful sentence! But it's early a.m. and, in the interest of authenticity, I'll let it stand). I learned yesterday that I have been accepted into a Ph.D program at Rutgers' School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies. I'm thrilled and humbled and, quite honestly, don't have a clue how I'm going to work it in to an already full and chaotic life--but I'm going to do it. I have made similarly crazy decisions in the past, and, looking back, they have always been the most fruitful. Long ago, after finishing my undergrad work, I decided to pursue "some kind of writing career." I viewed my first corporate job as a necessary detour--"something to pay the bills." Then it was financial journalism--a place to "learn the ropes" until I could find "something real." And so forth...Well, this has been real. Instead of trekking far outside the corporate mainstream, I've taken my explorations inside the corporate structure in which the vast majority of people live and work. I've found it endlessly fascinating. I turned an "involuntary hiatus" (layoff) into an opportunity to return to school and spend two years thinking about and discussing the field in which I've become an accidental expert--and I've been able to share these thoughts and discussions with academics, professiona[...]
2005-12-13T07:11:26.350-05:00As I have already written, communication is like light. I don't mean this poetically, although it is a fortunate analogy. I mean that, like light, it can validly be viewed in classical mechanical terms (information transfer from sender to receiver) or in what I'm referring to as quantum mechanical terms (distributed, imprecise, contingent upon the myriad disturbances and distortions that are inevitably involved in human communication).
2005-12-02T04:24:51.103-05:00This article from Digital Web Magazine was forwarded by a colleague with whom I share long, pleasant, frustrating conversations about corporatespeak. Writing is about soul, which is why it is no coincidence that just about anyone can fill in the blank in the following phrase: "The soulless _____________".
2005-12-12T21:47:05.583-05:00Nice column by Lucy Kellaway in the Nov. 28 Financial Times: "Why There Has Been an Uptick in My Tolerance of Jargon". If you follow the link above, you can read the full column, but you'll have to take a 15-day trial subscription to the paper (worth it, in my mind--I love the FT, and Lucy Kellaway is particularly a joy).
These are cute and probably will quickly catch on and become stale.
While I agree with Lucy that "people who are already heavy users are beyond help" and that other people's use of Class B jargon is "not the end of the world," I also have to agree with the priggish Oxford man who writes: "Offlish is highly contagious. It is vital that these people are mocked, ridiculed, and undermined in order to prevent its spread."
The trick, of course, is doing so without committing professional suicide. The "challenge" is to achieve sufficient status within your organization (and, ultimately, your industry) that imitating your use of the language becomes as important to underlings as imitating your clothing style and other superficial indicators of your success.
2005-12-07T01:30:24.623-05:00Less Than Words Can Say--the classic eloquent rant by the late "Underground Grammarian" Richard Mitchell--is available on line and for free. More than 20 years ago, I saw Mitchell lecture at St. John's College in Annapolis. The title of his lecture: "Split Infinitives, the First Step Toward Moral Decay." The title of "Less Than Words Can Say" was a compromise with his publisher...Mitchell told us he wanted to call his book "The Worm in the Brain" (the title of Chapter 1).
2005-12-12T21:45:44.636-05:00I may be getting at why the universe wanted me to read Physics and Philosophy by Werner Heisenberg at this particular moment and what quantum mechanics has to do with corporate communication.Within the widely but not universally accepted Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is taken to mean that, on an elementary level, the physical universe does not exist in a deterministic form—but rather as a collection of probabilities, or potentials.Okay, let's back up a minute.Heisenberg's uncertainty principle states that one cannot assign with full precision values for certain pairs of observable variables, including the position and momentum of a single particle, at the same time. You can know precisely where a particle is or how fast it's moving, but you can't know both precisely at the same time. All the weirdness of quantum mechanics--things occupying more than one location at the same time, going from point A to point B without passing through any point in between, action at a distance--is supposed to go away at the macro level of our day-to-day world.Still with me?Okay, so the other aspect of quantum mechanics that's relevant here is the fact that the very act of observation disturbs the experiment. This is not something correctible. At the level of the very small, very fast objects quantum mechanics is interested in, you cannot remove the impact of the observer. Observation affects what is being observed and thereby impedes precise measurement.Now, what does this have to do with corporate communication?This discussion has to be broken down into three parts:* Communication* Mass communication ("mass" is taken to mean "between more than two people.")* Strategic corporate communicationThe nearest communication theory has managed to come to anything resembling classical Newtonian mechanics has been Shannon & Weaver's model, which treats communication as a mechanical process of information transfer, in which--if the source and the sender and receiver and encoding and the decoding all work the way they should, and if the system is purged of "noise"--communication happens. That means, the message makes it from the source to the receiver in substantially the same form. What Shannon & Weaver had to give up in order for this model to work was any concern about "meaning". They were concerned exculsively with accurate signal processing.Shannon & Weaver understood the limitations of their model with regard to human communication. Implicit in this is the understanding that signal processing is, if I may, a Newtonian activity, a matter of classical mechanics, of pushing discrete particles of information down definable channels; while human communication is more like a quantum mechanical activity, subject to all kinds of strangeness. This is because human communication is concerned with the creation of meaning, which is not discrete. It is more "wavelike" in nature, occuring in simultaneously in many media and contexts, continually changing.Taken together, then, communication looks an awful lot like light--both particle and wave, depending on how you choose to observe, think about, and use it. Restricting yourself to the Newtonian perspective is necessary in certain contexts and when addressing certain problems. As long as you realize this, you'll be okay. The problem comes in when you try to apply classical thinking to the quantum mechanical realm. Put another way, there is nothing wrong with thinking of communication as information transfer; the problem comes in when you start to believe that communication is information transfer.Remember the words of Neils Bohr: "The opposite of a true statement is a false statement; the opposite of a profound truth often is another profound truth."More to come.[...]
2005-11-26T06:23:26.716-05:00On a recent day marked by several amazing coincidences, I stopped at Borders with the intention of "just browsing." To help keep my promise, I restricted myself to the Business Communication section, where I felt I would not be unduly tempted by such titles as "Life Is Just a Series of Presentations" or "Words that Sell." Any book in that section worth owning, I reasoned, I probably already own.
2005-11-26T05:38:22.636-05:00I'm happy to report that the Cluetrain Manifesto is again available on line!
2005-11-26T05:26:48.776-05:00During a Thanksgiving-morning supermarket run to pick up a handful of holiday necessities, I was engaged in a scavenger hunt for the final item on my list: apple cider. It wasn't in Produce; it wasn't among Juices or Non-Alcoholic Beverages (supermarkets in New Jersey can't sell alcoholic beverages -- so, why the superfluous category?); I even searched Dairy on the assumption that similarity in packaging might be sufficient reason for mis-characterizing the product. No go.I was perusing the Juices aisle for the second time, when a fellow customer, standing in front of a display of apple juices, sputtered in disgust. Upon noticing that he had company--and that his company had noticed his sputter--he turned to me and said, "Someone oughta tell the company." Then, jabbing his finger at a bottle of apple juice, he read from the label: "100% apple juice, with other ingredients." He looked at me, eyes wide with desire for shared understanding and contempt, and explained, "If there are other ingredients, then it's less than 100% apple juice!"I nodded sympathetically and commented on the fact that this brand (begins with "M", ends with "TTS") had a strong reputation for wholesomeness, a sharp edge of irony forced into my voice. Truth is, I've become so used to this sort of abuse I've learned to conserve my outrage.My poor compatriot shook his head (I could tell he had already had a rough morning before being smacked upside the head by this example of half-truth in advertising)."I just wanna get some apple juice for my little girl," he said forlornly.I decided against asking him if he'd seen any apple cider during his supermarket travels. He'd been through enough. I settled for, "Good luck." As he trudged toward the end of the aisle (gripping one of the offending bottles), I stopped to read the label he had pointed to. The exact wording was "100% APPLE JUICE from concentrate with additional ingredient". Easy enough to unpack and justify. First, they put in the "100% APPLE JUICE from concentrate." Then, they added the "additional ingredient." Any judge in the world would've laughed my friend out of court.Of course, my friend (a blue-collar fellow, I inferred from his clothing and speech, although I stood beside him in my leather jacket, beat-up jeans, Pay-Less sneakers, and sweatshirt stained with coffee from the QuikChek cup I clutched in my left hand--from what bottomless pool of hypocrisy do we draw our inferences about others?), was right. The word choice, the type face, the syntax were all carefully chosen to confound and insult the consumer's intelligence. The label might as well have read "Caveat Emptor, you schmuck!"Instead of my banal observation about the reputation of this apple juice brand, I should have quoted Tom Stoppard, as follows:"Words don't deserve that kind of malarkey. They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos."I could have. I know the speech by heart. If I'd plagiarized Stoppard, without fear of appearing a hyperliterate snob, perhaps my acquaintance might have walked away a little taller, unshaven chin held high, instead of dragging his butt toward Hot and Cold Cereals (why not, simply, Cereals?) with a dejected air. Maybe...I'm thankful for this fellow whose name I'll never know. He's one of a significant minority who still care about being misled, even when not actually lied to, of having his intelligence insulted by claptrap.I'm thankful that Stop & Shop's express lane bears a sign that says "12 Items or Fewer", rather than "12 Items or Less." Is there a connection between that fact--that tiny bit of grammatical correctness--and the friendly smiles an[...]
2005-11-23T11:35:13.630-05:00I'm sorry to report that the Cluetrain Manifesto no longer appears to be online. I'm removing the link from my blog. If it becomes available again, the link will return.
2005-11-22T22:25:06.970-05:00This is from The Global Language Monitor :"2005 was the year we saw the Political Correctness movement become a truly global phenomenon," said Paul JJ Payack, President of The Global Language Monitor (GLM). "The list is but one more example of the insertion of politics into every facet of modern life."The year has been rife with examples that have been nominated by the GLM's Language Police, volunteer language observers from the world over.The Top Politically inCorrect Words and Phrases for 2005:1. "Misguided Criminals" for Terrorist: The BBC attempts to strip away all emotion by using what it considers neutral descriptions when describing those who carried out the bombings in the London Tubes. The rub: the professed intent of these misguided criminals was to kill, without warning, as many innocents as possible (which is the common definition for the term, terrorist).2. "Intrinsic Aptitude" (or lack thereof) was a suggestion by Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, on why women might be underrepresented in engineering and science. He was nearly fired for his speculation.3. "Thought Shower" or "Word Shower", substituting for brainstorm, so as not to offend those with brain disorders such as epilepsy.4. Scum or "la racaille" for French citizens of Moslem and North African descent inhabiting the projects ringing French cities. France's Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, used this most Politically inCorrect (and reprehensible) label to describe the young rioters (and by extension all the inhabitants of the Cites).5. "Out of the Mainstream" when used to describe the ideology of any political opponent: At one time slavery was in the mainstream, thinking the sun orbited the earth was in the mainstream, having your blood sucked out by leeches was in the mainstream. What's so great about being in the mainstream?6. "Deferred Success" as a euphemism for the word fail. The Professional Association of Teachers in the UK considered a proposal to replace any notion of failure with deferred success in order to bolster students' self-esteem.7. "Womyn" for Women to distance the word from man. This in spite of the fact that the term man in the original Indo-European is gender neutral (as have been its successors for some 5,000 years).8. C.E. for A.D.: Is the current year A.D. 2005 or 2005 C.E.? There is a movement to strip A.D. (Latin for Year of our Lord) from the year designation used in the West since the 5th century and replace it with the supposedly more neutral Common Era (though the zero reference year for the beginning of the Common Era remains the year of Christ's birth).9. "God Rest Ye Merry Persons" for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen": A Christmas, eh, Holiday, carol with 500 years of history is not enough to sway the Anglican Church at Cardiff Cathedral (Wales) from changing the original lyrics.10. Banning the word "Mate": the Department of Parliamentary Services in Canberra issued a general warning to its security staff banning the use of the word 'mate' in any dealings they might have with both members of the Parliament and the public. What next? Banning Down Under so as not to offend those living in the Up Over.Holiday Bonus: Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings for Christmas (which some U.K. schools now label Wintervale. (In the word X-Mas, the Greek letter 'Chi' represented by the Roman X actually stands for the first two letters of the name Christ.)Last year the Top Politically Incorrect words were: Los Angeles County's insistence of covering over with labels any computer networking protocols that mention master/slave jargon. Following closely were "non-same-sex marriage" for marriage, and "waitron" for waiter or waitress.[...]
2005-11-18T20:48:25.986-05:00I say "blogspam", Newsweek says "splogs" .
2005-11-18T20:34:14.176-05:00Wonderful spot on NPR this week: What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate.
2005-11-08T23:01:28.390-05:00Where do we draw the line between taking mild liberties with language and out-and-out lying? Eg., a company I once worked for "postponed" its annual conference following the 9/11 terrorist attacks (suggesting, of course, that the 2001 meeting would be rescheduled). When a former colleague (I had already moved on to new, if not greener, pastures) inquired when the event was being postponed to, she was told, "October 2002" -- the following year's regularly scheduled event. In truth, the 2001 event had been "canceled", not "postponed."
2005-11-05T10:10:08.836-05:00No, this is not more Blogspam!
2005-11-04T23:48:16.493-05:00According to Dictionary.com, "euphemize" is a legitimate word, but not "euphemization" or, still worse, "re-euphemization".
2005-11-04T23:12:05.770-05:00True story: A CEO reviews a piece of writing (composed by someone else) that is being sent out over his signature. His only edit--replace the word "challenging" with "exciting". Maybe it's nothing, or maybe it is the beginning of an inflection point, the start of a euphemistic arc. What do I mean? Well, everyone knows (at least everyone who does corporatespeak for a living) that "challenging" is euphemistic code for "scary" or, at the very least, "problematic." The challenging thing about corporate euphemisms is that they have a useful life--once everyone knows what they mean they cease to be code and become synonymous with what they are intended to euphemize (Note to self: is "euphemize" a word? Look it up) "Challenging" is way overdue for re-euphemization. Will "exciting" be the new "challenging"? How long before "challenging" becomes a dirty word? How long before everyone knows what "exciting" really means...
2005-10-14T06:29:20.613-04:00Had great fun guest lecturing at FDU Wednesday night. Students were very active and engaged.
2005-10-11T06:32:25.766-04:00I've begun receiving "comments" on my posts from "anonymous"--the latest attempting to generate interest in a psychic website. I guess it was inevitable. I'm not exactly disturbed by this...more curious and faintly amused...do any of these parasites actually wind up selling anything this way?
2005-10-12T06:26:25.306-04:00In response to his complaint to the BBC, re: its misleading press release ("God Told Me to Invade Iraq, Bush Tells Palestinian Ministers"), Steve Lubetkin received the following:"Dear Mr LubetkinThank you for your e-mail regarding a BBC Press release which was promoting a major three-part series on BBC TWO entitled 'Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs'.I appreciate that you feel the paragraph which says "President George W Bush told Palestinian ministers that God had told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq" is misleading as when you read further you learn that the source for this revelation is a Palestinian leader and not the White House, I also understand that you feel Mr Bush's political and religious beliefs have no place in a BBC news release.Please be assured that the Press Release was in no way meant to be misleading however your comments will be carefully registered on a daily log, which is made available to our programme makers and senior management.Feedback of this nature helps us when making decisions about future BBC programmes and services and your comment will play a part in this process.Thank you for taking the time to contact us with your views.RegardsJonathan DunlopBBC Information"Okay, let's start at the top:"I appreciate that you feel the paragraph which says `President George W Bush told Palestinian ministers that God had told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq' is misleading as when you read further you learn that the source for this revelation is a Palestinian leader and not the White House..."I'm glad Mr. Dunlop "appreciates" Steve's feelings--but he completely (and I can't help thinking deliberately) misses the point. Mr. Dunlop suggests that Steve is objecting to a paragraph that appears misleading until you read on. In other words, it's lack of effort on the part of the reader that makes the paragraph appear misleading.Excuse me, Mr. BBC--we're talking about the headline and lead paragraph! As a representative of a reputable news organization, you certainly should know that the head and lead often are the only parts of a news story that get read. Yes, I know it's NOT a news story but a press release...and that distinction might hold water coming from some tech company hawking its latest cyber-widget (actually, it wouldn't, but I'll allow it for the sake of argument)...but the BBC is not selling widgets. Your press releases should -- and may be presumed to -- adhere to the same standards as your news copy. If you're selling news, it should be able to stand as news without being made misleading.Let's move on..."I also understand that you feel Mr Bush's political and religious beliefs have no place in a BBC news release."Back to "understanding" Steve's "feelings", as if they--and not the BBC's shoddy PR practices--were the issue...Here's what Steve said (bolding is mine):"The BBC's reputation for journalistic integrity is severely damaged by this kind of hyperbole, and it could have been avoided if the press release writer had simply added the phrase, 'according to a Palestinian leader who claimed to have heard the statements.' The way it's written makes it look like the Beeb interviewed George Bush and he said these things to a BBC news team. It's misleading, and whatever you think of Mr. Bush's politics or religious beliefs, it has no place in a BBC news release."It may take a bit of attention to keep track of the referent, but the "it" Steve refers to as having no place in a BBC [...]
2005-10-10T07:00:54.440-04:00So often, I've heard executives complain about how "the media just can't get it right"--meaning, the story that appeared in the press didn't match the spin in the company's press release.