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October 3, 2011

Staff Picks: Talk Normal

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 7:57 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Jack reviewed a great book a few years ago called The Management Myth: Why the “Experts” Keep Getting It Wrong. It is a serious book critiquing what the author calls "the pseudoscience of management theory," a call for us to look at management theory not as a science, but as a philosophy.

A question at the heart of that book is the efficacy of business jargon—that is, does the language we invent around business topics really produce a better understanding of those topics, or simply make the speaker of that language sound more clever, studied and imbued with expertise. The author begins the book with the story of how he, with just one "miserable summer at a fast-food restaurant" and a doctorate in nineteenth-century German philosophy under his belt, decided to try for a job in consulting. To prepare for his interview, he read the Financial Times every day for two weeks and devoured In Search of Excellence to master what he called “management speak.” And, despite his total lack of management experience or business expertise, he left that interview with a job as a management consultant. Soon he was being billed out to clients at a rate of half a million dollars per year—not because he was an expert on management, but because he could talk like one.

Now there comes a book that tackles the topic of business jargon from another, much more satirical angle, Talk Normal: Stop the Business Speak, Jargon and Waffle by Tim Phillips. This is a book for those in the trenches of the jargon war, those just trying to get through and make sense of yet another indecipherable email or memo. Phillips is the author of two previous books, Fit to Bust: How Great Companies Fail and Knockoff: The Deadly Trade in Counterfeit Goods. But why did Tim Phillips write this book? As he writes in the forward:

Talk Normal facilitates information delivery through mutilpe media formats and monetises eyeballs.

London, UK, Mar 30, 2011/TalkNormalWire — Talk Normal (http://talknormal.co.uk), the leading solution for information clarity optimisation and humour-based jargon mitigation strategies, has announced that it will henceforth facilitate information delivery through multiple media formats.

The expanded service offering encompasses a paper-based added-value offering which leverages content originated in the pre-exosting electronic service delivery method. Utilising multiple delivery channels matches eyeballs to content in an optimised and diversified platform: while retaining unity of purpose, the paper-based variant can reach Talk Normal partners who face electirical or data-access challenges, and additionally it interfaces with partners who want to make proactive moves to Talknormalise the jargon portfolios. It will also expedite the creation of enhanced revenue streams by monetising Talk Normal's attention endowment.

Talk Normal's chief solution advocate, Tim Phillips, commented that 'Many people ask me what this means to me. It means that I've written a book about my blog so I can earn some money.'

As you can probably tell, this book has a lot of humor (and British spelling) in it. But it's also deadly serious, providing real answers to a real problem in offices all over the world. On the one hand, if you're in business, you had better learn the language of business if you want to survive and thrive. But, on the other hand, so much of that language adds absolutely nothing of value to the conversation and obscures the issues for those involved in the process and/or just trying to figure out what the heck is actually going on. It's similar to the idea that artists must learn the rules of art before they can break them, except that the rules of art (composition, perspective, etc.) were put in place to better represent reality, whereas the rules of business jargon... well, there don't appear to be any real rules to business jargon. The author has come up with three guidelines to help:
  1. Try to be understood by everyone who's listening.
  2. Stop trying to sound clever for no reason.
  3. It's about attitude, not rules.
The first two are rather obvious, but the third may need a bit more explanation. Phillips write of rule three:
I'm constantly contacted by amateur grammarians who want me to post something about the abuse of dangling modifiers. I don't do this because I don't really know what a dangling modifier is. I could look it up on Wikipedia and pretend that I know what I'm talking about but that would mean I was trying to sound clever for no reason (see above).

We need to think clearly to write clearly, not swallow a book about grammar. I edit some terrible articles. The first thought is that there's a problem with the grammar: then when you fix the grammar you often find that there isn't a clear train of thought underlying what they wrote. That's the problem, not the dangling modifier.

As a reviewer of business books and the managing editor of ChangeThis, I couldn't agree more. Talk Normal is both a lot of fun and extremely practical at the same time. It will leave you laughing and thinking more clearly. And it will be released by Kogan Page later this month. Be sure to check it out