On underwriting (and I’m not talking about insurance)
Truman Capote, one of my favourite writers, once said*: “I think most writers, even the best, overwrite. I prefer to underwrite. Simple, clear as a country creek.”
I thought about this last week when I was working on something for a client. They wanted us to help them make a business case for doing something more strategically.
They were too close to it, they said. They wanted us to write something clear and simple so they could see the wood for the trees.
After a couple of hours, I had the bare bones of the argument down on paper. It looked all clean and new and lovely. But there it was: the word ‘strategic’, popping up all over the page like weeds on a newly mowed lawn.
There’s something about that word. It’s everywhere, yet hardly anyone seems to know exactly what it means. Including me, it turns out.
“Are we allowed to say ‘strategic’?” I wailed at Jan across the desk. “I know I shouldn’t. I just can’t think of anything else.”
He looked thoughtful for a minute. “How about just saying ‘cleverer’?”
So I typed: We need to be cleverer about how we do this. Simple, clear as a country creek. And so much better for it.
*He said it in the Preface to Music for Chameleons, a collection of short stories, reportage and interviews, including a hilarious and moving conversation with his friend Marilyn Monroe. Have a flick through it one day. It’s brilliant.
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