Blog in 01 2011.
A good name is more precious than gold. It’s an old Irish saying, but some things never change.
Take last week, for example. I was listening to an old Ricky Gervais podcast where Stephen Merchant was excitedly talking about a band he’d seen advertised on a blackboard, outside a bar.
With everyone in the studio waiting with bated breath to hear what this brilliantly named band were called (and with my slight fascination with band names) I found myself gripped.
Until finally, he said “The band was called... Loose Change”.
After a long pause, I imagine everyone in the studio looked at each other in disbelief. Then smiles, sniggering and chortling turned to raucous, unabashed laughter.
How could a name be so dull? Could there be a less evocative, emotive or electrifying name for a band?
Cue suggestions of “Rough Outline” and “Pocket Fluff”. These names will never adorn a poster for Glastonbury. If a band can’t muster up some inspiration or spark in their name, it doesn’t give you much confidence in their ability to write good music, does it?
But that’s the value of a name. And in business it’s no different.
If you call your travel company “Annual Leave Solutions” or your latest proposal a “Leverage synergy initiative” people won’t be excited. And why should they be? You’re underselling your business. And if you don’t think you’re good, they’re not going to.
But get the name right and you’ll capture someone’s imagination (and maybe, their business).
So next time, think about your audience and give them a mountain of moula, not just loose change.
I have a new favourite bit of my day. Let’s say I’ve taken a Boris bike from my house in leafy Kennington to The Writer in The Borough. (By the way, every political bone in my body is telling me to call it a Ken bike or a Livingston cycle, but alliteration seems to win the day, annoyingly.)
I love the sound it makes when you get off and give the front wheel a good, solid push into the docking station. There’s a satisfyingly mechanical clunk as the docking station clutches it tight. It’s not the refined business-class catch of a BMW door; there’s something plasticky and basic, worthy and trustworthy, about it.
And it’s not just the sound. Once it’s made its robot growl, the light goes green, and you just wander off. No locking, no touching out with your Oyster. You get to swagger away nonchalantly like a mid-80s detective leaving a soft-top in a crime-ridden part of LA without closing the roof, or even thinking about putting the alarm on. I throw my scarf over my shoulder, and dream of wearing white slip-ons and no socks.
Tim Radford, a journalist with The Guardian for more than 30 years, has come up with 25 rather brilliant writing commandments. And the message he hammers home is think about your reader. Always.
Here are the first three: 1. When you sit down to write, there is only one important person in your life. This is someone you will never meet, called a reader.
2. You are not writing to impress the scientist you have just interviewed, nor the professor who got you through your degree, nor the editor who foolishly turned you down, or the rather dishy person you just met at a party and told you were a writer. Or even your mother. You are writing to impress someone hanging from a strap in the tube between Parson's Green and Putney, who will stop reading in a fifth of a second, given a chance.
3. So the first sentence you write will be the most important sentence in your life, and so will the second, and the third. This is because, although you – an employee, an apostle or an apologist – may feel obliged to write, nobody has ever felt obliged to read.
Get a cup of tea and take five minutes to read the rest of them. It’ll be well worth it.
You know that imminent work thing that’s filling you with dread? Well researchers at the University of Chicago have discovered a way that might help you tackle it without the nerves – by writing down your fears just before you do it.
In a recent study they found that students who wrote about their thoughts ten minutes before an exam got better grades than those who didn’t.
The report backs up Sian Beilock’s theory that when we get nervous, we get information logjams in the brain. We choke. And that getting your thoughts down on paper is a good way of drawing a line under them – de-cluttering your mind.
It’s a really interesting bit of research, especially for anyone who’s ever had a bout of nerves before a pitch, presentation or job interview.