Blog in 08 2011.
For me, yesterday was a sad day. Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple.
It’s odd isn’t it? CEOs resign from companies all the time and nobody bats an eyelid. But the moment Steve Jobs goes everyone’s shouting it from the rooftops – even writing bizarre obituaries of his life. Like this.
A big part of his charm is how he communicates with people, the way he connects. We’ve all seen him stand up and deliver his speeches. He’s straightforward yet inspiring. And while he doesn’t get as much press for his writing, it’s just as effective.
In his letter of resignation, he’s really doing a lot of the things we think makes great business writing.
There’s a teensy preamble, then he dives straight in with the point: ‘I hereby resign as CEO of Apple’. Shame about the ‘hereby’, but he’s told us everything we need to know up front. We know what we’re reading, and why he wrote it.
A little later he starts a sentence with ‘And’. Just because it’s natural, it flows and it makes sense. Which is what Apple’s all about.
I could go on. But for every wordy hero, there’s a villain. Rebekah Brooks plays by different rules. This is her resignation letter.
It’s unnecessarily long and most people won’t have read it all the way through. Maybe only Rupert got that far. Maybe she doesn’t want you to. But I did (we are self-confessed word geeks at The Writer, after all).
I was looking for words ‘I resign’ on there. But it’s not until paragraph six we’re begrudgingly given ‘Therefore I have given Rupert and James Murdoch my resignation’
Like blood from a stone.
And generally it feels very evasive and robotic, I mean, have you ever heard anyone say ‘I leave with an abundance of friends’? No, because that person would definitely not have an abundance of friends. You’d edge away quietly, making sure you knew where their hands were.
So, CEOs of the world, if you want Joe Public here to think you’re not a clinical robot, make sure you tell it like it is. Sound human, be natural, and go out in style.
But as we've said before (and will no doubt bang on about again), a language needs to move on to survive.
And if a word goes out of circulation, it's either because it's no longer necessary or because people have found another word that does its job.
*That sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it's a genuine question.
He’s written an opinion piece in the NY Times which starts with the words:
‘Our leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.’
He goes on to explain why he should be getting taxed more. He’s super clear, even when he’s writing about tricky finance stuff.
I’ve done a fair bit of flying recently. And I’ve noticed some of the airlines have jazzed up their safety videos in a bid to make us pay attention.
Thomson have got a team of Irish children-cum-flight attendants in theirs. It’s dead cute. And I listened. The script isn’t up to much. It’s the same thing you always hear on a flight, but because it’s wee Alice delivering it, it’s funny. It wouldn’t have worked any other way.
But Virgin has no excuse. They’ve got an animated video, music that sounds like Zero 7 and Vic Reeves doing the voice over. It clearly cost a fair bit. But no-one seems to have thought about Vic’s script.
It’s all so expected. So passive. Like, all baggage should be stored securely.
Or, it is expressly forbidden to smoke anywhere on this aircraft. Or jackets may be inflated or topped up by blowing into a tube.
Admittedly his delivery is cracking. The bit about high heeled shoes at 3.30mins is particularly nice. But I think Virgin have missed a real trick by not giving him something better to say.
I’d wager that if an airline took the bold move of rewriting the in-flight safety announcement we’d actually listen. Cartoons, kids and comedians are all very good, but a more interesting and natural way of talking about seatbacks, bulkheads and the rest would get our attention.
Come on someone, say turn off your phone instead of ensure all mobile devices are switched off.
It’s about time.