Our Hannah gave a great talk on language in culture recently. And although she covered a lot in the talk, we've thought it was worth pulling out four quick wordy tips that you can put into action, straight away.
Watch your metaphors
How would your people describe themselves? The pictures we paint can say a lot about our attitudes to work. It’s not hard to see why Enron’s ‘Guys with spikes’ made different business decisions to Ritz Carlton’s ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen’. Language shapes our identity.
Be active, not passive
When you use passive language, no one’s accountable. It might feel easier to say ‘mistakes were made’ than ‘I made a mistake’, but be warned: use too much passive language and you could easily create a culture where no one takes responsibility for anything. Take ownership. Use the active voice.
Keep it simple: cut the corporate-speak
If you want your teams to do things differently, one of the easiest ways to win them over is by writing more like you speak. Jargon and buzzwords set eyes rolling at best - and at worst switch us off completely. They’re less clear, too. What does being ‘operationally excellent’ look like? It’s hard to picture. But ask me to ‘do one thing better every day’ and I can instantly think of things I can improve.
If in doubt, bring in a fresh pair of eyes
The longer you’ve worked somewhere, the harder it is to spot the little things that could be undermining your culture. So if you’d like a second opinion, we’d love to help.
As our resident HR expert, I’m really interested in the rise of tools like Textio. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a system that, among other things, analyses your language to point out where you’ve slipped into jargon or used words with a certain gender bias. It’s fascinating stuff, and it’s particularly popular with recruiters who want to write clear, gender-neutral job ads.
You might wonder why I’m writing about it – after all, it probably sounds like Textio should be one of our competitors. But it’s not quite as simple as that. As clever as these AI tools are, they’ll always have limits. They give you interesting data, but they’re not pretending to replace living, breathing writers.
To make sure it stays that way, I think there are a few things recruiters can do to stay ahead of the robots.
Think like a robot…
Textio describes itself as a ‘learning system’. That’s because it bases its analysis on job ads and descriptions that are online right now. So, the feedback it gives you today won’t necessarily be the same analysis it gives you in six months or two years from now. That’s something writers could all learn from.
Rather than assuming you know what jobseekers want to hear just because your ads have worked well in the past, immerse yourself in your ideal candidate’s language. What do they read? What do they listen to? Talk to your newest recruits: find out what they care about, what challenges them, what inspires them. Don’t let your language leave you behind.
…but use some writerly common sense, too
The good thing about analysing writing as a writer rather than as a robot is that you can filter the sense from the nonsense. You understand nuance in a way a robot can’t. Do you remember Microsoft’s attempt at creating an AI chat bot? It drew its content from real online chats, and it took about 24 hours for the thing to become so racist and genocidal that Microsoft had to take it offline.
As a human writer, you can read something and check it all hangs together properly, and feels consistent. Don’t just stitch together old copy-and-pasted paragraphs that have done quite well in the past. A robot could do that. You can do better.
Write the job ads only your company could write
Neil Gaiman once advised aspiring authors to ‘start telling the stories only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you, and there’ll always be smarter writers than you […] but you are the only you.’
The same thing goes for job ads. There’ll always be bigger companies out there, or companies that have won more awards, but pretending to be the same as them isn’t the answer. If you try to sound like Google, and you hire people who really want to work for Google, they’ll probably leave you at some point to join Google.
Instead, if you want your company and the role you’re recruiting for to stand out, then write about things the robots can’t know and your competitors can’t copy. What stories can you tell about your culture, your team, or what makes your role completely different from anything else?
It’s not just the content of your message; it’s also the tone that’s going to set you apart. In the days before Innocent Drinks, no one sounded like Innocent. Now, friendly chit-chatty brands are ten-a-penny and easy to copy. But they’re hard for a candidate to choose between.
So recruiters, it’s over to you. If you want to bring the best possible candidates into your business, don’t let AI do all the work for you. Remember, if you can develop a genuinely distinctive tone that matches your culture, you’re always going to be on to a winner. And that, for now at least, is something the robots simply can’t do.
The champagne corks have popped. The yellow, black and white pencils have been won. If you’re reading this and not nursing a hangover, the chances are you weren’t one of last night’s D&AD winners.
Alas, if you entered the Writing for Design category, I know you weren’t (I was one of the judges). I’m sure there was plenty of worthy work out there, but it didn’t translate into entries – we only had 70 to choose from.
So I’m on a mission to put things right and make 2016 a year to remember for award-winning words. If you’re with me, here are my tips to help you with next year’s entries.
Writing for Design is a craft category, so show your words some love
You’re being judged by fellow writers – so if there’s a typo lurking, a comma out of place or one too many syllables squeezed into your sonnet, we’ll spot it.
And care for every word you enter; don’t slap the same copy-and-paste message onto everything. Details matter.
D&AD judges are looking for three big things beyond craft: idea, execution and relevance. So ask yourself these questions:
Is your idea original?
Be honest. Better still, get someone else to be honest. If they say, ‘Oh yeah, that reminds me of the campaign I saw in the 2011 D&AD annual…’ it’s back to the drawing board.
If they say, ‘I wish I’d thought of that,’ or mutter something and look jealous, you’re in the running.
(Oh, and if your work sounds just like Innocent smoothies, but you aren’t Innocent smoothies, don’t enter it.)
Will we get your idea fast?
Contrary to popular belief (or my belief, at least) judges don’t peruse your work while sipping champagne, stretched on chaises longues. We’re in a basement. By the loos. Faced with tables topped with posters, books, packaging and brochures of all kinds. And we’ve got about two-and-a-half hours to decide which pieces will make our first cut. Which means each entry has just over two minutes to impress.
But before your work can impress us, we have to understand it. The best entries stood alone without us having to go back to the brief to figure out what we were looking at.
So before you enter, imagine what your work looks like out of context. Try showing it to someone from outside your company. Not in situ, but on a table (in a basement, if you’ve got one), without a brief. How does it look now? If they don’t get it, don’t enter it.
Is your execution consistently good?
If you’ve got three executions for your campaign and one of them’s the best thing you’ve ever written, but you scraped the barrel on the others, it’s pretty easy to spot. Unless you only enter the best one. What we don’t see, we can’t judge…
Do your words speak for themselves – without gimmicks?
The telltale sign of an idea that needs more work is the irrelevant gimmick. At no point did a dodgy pop-up make me like a message more. (Last year our Anelia blogged about a black pencil winner that used a neat trick with a well-placed staple.) But in that example the mechanism was the idea; it wasn’t an add-on to make mediocre words memorable.
Winning awards is never easy. But it’s definitely doable. So come on, writers – show the creative industry what you’re made of. And who knows, next year you might just pick up a pencil.
Today was The Writer’s first foray into the world of trade shows – and very interesting it was, too.
While Theo and Sarah manned the stand (if you come along today you’ll find us at 758) I went to a few of the conference sessions.
Here are three of my highlights.
Quote of the day:
‘A notebook is the most intuitive technology you’ll ever use. It doesn’t crash, it doesn’t run out of battery, you can carry it with you and pass it on.’ Robert Ashcroft, Santander.
On a day that was filled with companies selling learning tech and speakers talking about it, it was nice to see that trusty pens and paper still had their place (not that there was ever any doubt).
Later on, when Stephen Frost told us about his time training 70,000 Games Makers at London 2012, notebooks won gold again. How did they make sure every Games Maker knew what to do? They gave everyone notebooks to make their own mini learning guides. We’re so proud.
Slide of the day – Stockholm 1967 (the morning after driving laws changed, from driving on the left to the right)
Later, Stephen used this as a metaphor for poor organisational change. It’s not enough to tell people to change. They need to understand when, how and why to change if you want to avoid chaos. You’ve been warned.
Video of the day (Candid Camera showing how people behave in lifts)
You might see yourself as a free spirit. But the chances are you’re not quite as independent as you thought. Volvo Group’s learning team played this to remind us that, whether consciously or not, we all try and fit in. And if you want to break people’s habits, you’ll need a strong-minded team to start leading by example.
Our Neil will be at the event today, running a taster session on the neuroscience behind our training. He’s on at 11.15am. Hopefully he’ll see some of you there.
Here’s our stand, if you’re trying to track us down.
I hope not. But Trendwatching has just listed the nine new business buzzwords it expects us to hear more of this year. And ‘datashaped’ (all one word), ‘remapped’ and ‘(self) actualised’ are all in there.
A list like this makes my heart sink. Not just because buzzwords almost always sound horrible, but because they’re simply not effective. They’re too ambiguous, too easy to ignore and far too easy to misunderstand.
Here’s an example:
If you wanted to use ‘remapped’ in a sentence, apparently you could say: ‘The essence of the remapped world will be feeding 2013’s demand for multi-directional consumerism.’
You could say that. But no one would have a clue what you were on about.
It would be clearer to write something like: ‘2013 is going to be a big year for emerging markets. They’ll be producing and exporting more than ever before – to developed and other emerging markets.’
If you’re writing about new ideas, describing them with new words doesn’t help. In fact, the more complex the idea, the more straightforward your language should be. It’s the only way you can be sure that your readers will really understand it.
So let’s ditch the jargon and make 2013 a year for great new ideas, described in good old-fashioned language.
Who’s with me?