A bit late in the day, I’ve recently come across the phrase ‘jump the shark’ – so called after the episode in TV’s Happy Days (younger readers ask your older colleagues) when the Fonz literally jumps over a shark on water skis.
This was the sad point when Happy Days had passed its best and the script writers started to resort to the ludicrous to mask a general decline in script quality. My own personal ‘jump the shark’ favourite would probably be Bobby Ewing ‘resurfacing’ in the shower in Dallas. But there are numerous others to while away your next coffee break.
Is your business jumping the shark?
Businesses too go through their own ‘jump the shark’ moments when particular initiatives pop-up that should probably have been resigned to the cutting room floor. As communications professionals, we’re often called upon to communicate these initiatives or work on the best way to communicate corporate messages that have a distinctly ‘sharky’ whiff about them.
As painful as it can be, it’s our job to call out those ‘jump the shark’ moments that are often lost in the echo chamber of corporate life. Failure to do so can mean anything but a happy day.
There’s nothing like an ambitious title for a blog and this one feels right up there along with 300 odd words on ‘How to do nuclear fusion’. But, here goes.
When you think about great historical figures who communicate well people like Churchill come to mind. A nice turn of phrase, consistent messaging, positive reinforcement, presence, and no little preparation resulted in a reputation as a great orator – though, interestingly, no one remembers his alleged struggles to overcome a speech impediment. Historians are divided as to whether he had a lisp, stuttered or simply liked a ‘loaded pause’.
Today’s leaders have it harder than he did in many ways given the number of communications channels they can use there and the expectation of delivering more. Some leaders, for good or ill, thrive on the immediacy of Twitter for example – Trump – while others are probably blissfully unaware as to what goes out under their name.
I want to communicate
What never changes though are the leaders – and I’m moving on to include business leaders and managers here – who are really good at communicating do it naturally. They have a distinctive voice; take every opportunity to communicate; are authentic (you can believe that what they’re saying is from them and represents their values); use wit and humour when appropriate; and take advice and feedback from those around them to improve. Probably most important though is their desire to communicate; they genuinely want to do it. Try media training someone who has no desire to talk to the media. It can be very painful.
For those who aren’t natural communicators, communication is a tougher job but no one says they need to be great orators. If they follow the same rules that come more naturally to the good communicator then why shouldn’t a bad communicator become a good communicator? And surely it’s worth the effort. For CEOs or senior managers, I would have said it’s probably the most important part of their job.
Easy enough? Now about fusing together those pesky light nuclei…
Footballer types will be familiar with the Dutch concept of Total Football, pioneered by the great Dutch footballer Johann Cruyff. It was a method of play that meant any player could interchange with another in any position on the pitch. Characterised by space and movement (he says, channelling his inner Alan Hansen punditry), it was a philosophy that unified the whole team.
Communications shouldn’t be any different.
If you think about every single touch point that a business has with its customers, suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders, how consistent are the communications? For instance, it’s all well and good publishing a beautiful new website that embodies the ideas of plain and simple English, but all that good work is undermined when a business renewal letter is sent to a client that is full of ‘herewiths’ and ‘thereofs’ and other intelligible dirge.
What do the signs in your reception say about your business? What about the all staff email from the CEO? The language used on a trade stand? Brochures? The company’s LinkedIn profile? Even the sign off at the bottom of each employee’s email? Employee benefit statements?
You get the idea…every single communication point must not only be consistent in terms of its language and execution but must almost be identifiable with another. There is no point the group communications or marketing team pioneering an approach to communication if it’s not adopted by the facilities department, customer services, sales, HR…
I’m no design expert but it struck me the other day while looking at my phone, how brilliant the Apple logo is. Yes, it’s obviously an apple – I told you I was no expert – but it’s the bite out of the apple that is the really clever bit.
There are all sorts of stories, myths and legends weaving around the web as to why the ‘bite’ is there. According to one media report some think it’s a play on ‘byte’, others relate it to the famous code breaker Alan Turing who apparently died by eating a poisoned apple. The truth is likely to be the more prosaic suggestion that the designer just saw it as a great way of differentiating the logo from a cherry.
However it got there, the bite makes what would be a rather routine outline of an apple into something far more interesting. It suggests movement, action, even intrigue.
Writing can use the same trick to liven up a piece that might otherwise get lost although this time the ‘bite’ could be humour, creative language, a great picture to accompany the piece, or even an Unconvential. Grammar. Approach.
Next time you write something, take a moment to step back and ask yourself, “Where’s the bite?”
No, I’m not suggesting you go out and rob the local bank, or even (and I’m talking to men here attending industry conferences or going to sporting events) wear red trousers – that really is unforgivable – I’m talking about many of the arcane laws of grammar and punctuation.
Who says for instance that you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction? “But we were taught never to do that,” I hear you scream. And, why shouldn’t you use one word sentences? Don’t believe everything. They. Tell. You.
End with a preposition? That’s the stuff we want more of.
It can be fun to deliberately break the rules of grammar and punctuation to emphasise a point, add a bit of spice to your writing, or just to simply get a reaction. That said, you have to know you’re breaking the rules otherwise how do you know you’re breaking the rules? Where’s the fun in that?
So boldly go to split infinity, stick it to the punctuation pedants and grammar geeks and don’t be afraid to break those laws. Having said that, dangle your modifier and I’ll be coming for you…
*Any grammar and punctuation mistakes within this post are purely intentional (even the ones that aren’t).