November 3, 2011

News & Opinion: What are your six words?

By: Sally Haldorson @ 8:01 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

I was driving the other day and turned on the radio to The Ben Merens Show, a call-in program airing on a local NPR station. He and his guest were taking calls for listeners' Six Word Memoirs. I'd never heard of such a thing, and as I listened, I learned there are a number of books and a well-developed website all based on this concept of summing up your life in six words. (A quick Google search showed me that I've apparently been living under a rock despite working for a book company and there are copious riffs on this Six Word theme.) Merens' guest that day was the editor of SmithMag, Larry Smith. Two of the numerous Six Word Memoir books by Smith Magazine are Not Quite What I Was Planning and It All Changed in an Instant.

During their discussion, Merens and Smith briefly mentioned a section of the SmithMag site that gathers Six Words about Work. At that point, I had to stop listening to the show and get out of my car, but the next day, when searching for the archived MP3 version of the interview, I found several other NPR interviews with Smith, including one focused completely on Work, in Six Words that aired during Talk of the Nation in September.

But first, click on over to SmithMag so you can scroll through hundreds of contributions of six word work observations and personal truths that are often funny, serious, miserable, cynical, true. This section was created in conjunction with Mercer, a global human resources consulting firm, that partnered with SmithMag to create a contest to learn more about employees. The contest is over, but contributions to the treasury can still be added.

A few that stood out?

The positive: "Mouth shut, ears open, smile ready."
The serious: "It really is (not) that important."
The miserable: "Work nearly ruined all my happiness."
The cynical: "Trust no one. Sad but true."
The true: "Never email all colleagues funny stuff."

In fact, this morning, some co-workers and I were lamenting that it seems like people (including ourselves) are very poor at reading long emails, and these six words speak to the solution:

"Six word emails are ideal communication."

Now, I'm a fan of a good haiku. I'm even an occasional (very amateur) practioner. But can I sum up my work life in six words?

Let's see:

"Thirteen years of reading business books." (Too boring.)
"Too fun to leave for more money." (Too many words.)
"My English degrees weren't a waste." (Too optimistic?)

Pretty bad even if I give myself a pass for writing them in the spur of the moment.

How about:
"This is the place for me."

See, you can learn a lot about yourself when you give this a try. Or at the very least, you can practice becoming even more succinct than if you have become a proficient Tweeter.

What are your six work words?

Some of the best of Six Word Memoirs:


About Sally Haldorson

Sally Haldorson's job as 800-CEO-READ’s General Manager is to make 800-CEO-READ a great place to work for our employees, and a consistently high-performing customer service organization for our clients, authors, and our partners in the publishing industry. In addition to her General Manager duties ensuring collaboration, integration, and quality, she reads, writes, reviews, curates, and edits for the company. Helping craft The 100 Best Business Books of All Time used parts of both skill sets. Outside of work, she is most likely to be found hitting a tennis ball around or hanging out with her boys (husband, child, dog) at home.