Friday, 8 January 2010

Trampled by mammoths

Speak of resolutions in this season, and one thinks of those backbone-stiffening intentions with which we traditionally enter a new year. We resolve to do things; things recognised, even acknowledged, but previously undone. We firm our minds towards some new, and usually improving, task.

But resolution can also mean that we wish to resolve things already partly done, to tidy up the loose threads that are hanging over, perhaps, from the old year; the unfinished business of before. If this is a time of year for stock-taking, for looking backward and forward at once, both lines of sight can be epitomised in that single word - resolution.

My resolve today, as I look out over Edinburgh rooftops to Fife, a crumpled, snowy counterpane, is to celebrate the potential for ambiguity, the multiplicity of meaning that helps make our language so rich, while seemingly causing the pen to tremble in so many business writers’ hands.

The business world is a literal one where things must say precisely what they mean, and ambiguity is a form of suicide. Unless things are made factually explicit, delineated in all their fullness with a cold chisel in hard stone, the poor reader’s feeble mind will wander off and get lost in the graveyard. This fear ignores the critical fact that, as with body language so with written language, we are hard-wired to ‘get it’, to read the silences, interpret the things unsaid, peer into the cracks and sift through the ambiguities. Were it otherwise we would have been trampled by mammoths a long, long time ago.

Which brings me back to a point I’ve often made before: that organisations can afford to sound much more like people than they think – flawed, uncertain and, dare I say it, unresolved. We’ll believe them and even like them all the more for it. Happy New Year!

2 comments:

graham leicester said...

Thanks Jamie. You have reminded me to strengthen my resolve (backwards and forwards).

And... your words chime with something else I read this morning in the Booz Allen strategy and business review. It was in an article on leadership post-financial crisis (there are lots of these coming out now - calls for a new humility). It echoes your praise for language ambiguity: "We must promote leaders for whom doubt and uncertainty are simply a part of the human condition, not the enemy of action or a sign of weakness. They must tolerate questioning and doubt within their own organizations, and apply it productively themselves."

I hope I live long enough to see it.

Graham

Paul Phillips said...

You are so right, and what you say would apply to politicians in spades and multiples of spades. I'm not sure, though, living as we do with such a venal media, how we return to a world where every utterance wasn't scoured for meaning other than what the speaker/writer intended, which then becomes the story. My resolution, therefore, is to try to ignore the news media during 2010. With the utterly pointless coverage of the 'pre-election' that has already started, I must say they are making it an easy resolution to stick to.....