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Monday, 27 August 2012

This is the most amazing blog you will ever read. I loved writing it, and I will never forget it as long as I live.

Hyperbole. It's everywhere. Fact. Even here, in the opening paragraph of my blog.

As this blog is, ostensibly, about writing, I thought I should do a post about writing.

Coincidentally, I've attended three presentations last week that our Group Communications team arranged. One was about tone of voice in business communications.

Since then, I've become much more attuned to the nonsense that's spoken and written in business and politics every day. I didn't realise how much credibility businesses, and politicians, can lose through trotting out bland, mindless hyperbole.

I did an off-the-top-of-my-head search for the first company I could think of to see how they'd shape up. It was Coca-Cola, here's their "mission"
  • To refresh the world - in mind, body, and spirit (Oxford comma, model's own).
  • To inspire moments of optimism - through our brands and actions
  • To create value and make a difference everywhere we engage.
Laying aside whether these really are the mission of the company (isn't it more likely to be profit?). The first two are just rubbish. The third element of the vision is the same kind of brand corporate drivel you'll read on a hundred company websites. It doesn't differentiate Coca-cola at all. And furthermore, who ever actually says "engage" in a conversation (insert a joke about Jean-Luc Picard here). Who "creates value" except people who forge money? What do they mean by value? What do they mean by make a difference? Do they really want to do it EVERYWHERE? It's a paradox of modern business speak. Meaningless drivel, expressed in such fervent terms. Corporate marketing folks can't give us enough of it.

Let's engage with France and create real value for the family this holiday!

And then there's politicians.

I recently read that David Cameron had claimed that he remembered his wedding night, minute by minute. Really? 02:46.....what were you doing? 03:45? It's a meaningless soundbite. It emphasises how important he considers his marriage (presumably that will reassure the readers of the original article, in the Daily Mail), but for me, it just shows that he is a vacuous idiot who blethers away in spinspeak whilst not saying anything actually useful. Basically, he's a liar. Perhaps not intentionally, but he's a liar nonetheless. I think they call that "misspeaking." It's what people do when they open their mouths and let their true faculties and beliefs show.

Take, for instance, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the 6th August he said: "this is an opportunity for us to focus 110% on the economy." You know, I think John Maynard Keynes might have just died again. Whatever remaining shreds of credibility he had? Destroyed, by a mathematically nonsensical hyperbole. What was wrong with just 100%, George?

And then, Neil Armstrong died.

I think it's sad, and I don't think we've built upon the legacy that he, and other pioneers like him, left behind. But to begin with, I didn't think it was a "tragedy" that he's dead. He was 82. He had lived a full life. Married twice, and he leaves behind a family that will remember him fondly, and mourn his passing with sadness. They will feel he was taken from them too early; they will feel that he had more to give in life. But me? Am I gutted? If I said I was, I'd be lying, and I'll probably have forgotten by next week.

His death is part of the normal cycle of life. Sad, yes, but very much a timely reminder to us all that achievement and greatness do not come without hard work.

And then, I started to think about today's flash in the pan celebrities who are worth so much less than the men and women who were at the forefront of scientific discovery. Those people whose explorations into the unknown enabled so much of the technological innovation that make our lives what they are today. And what do we choose to celebrate now? Footballers, their wives, people on a reality show who have never done anything but be on a reality show (wow, aren't they, like, amazeballs?).

That's the great tragedy here, that Neil Armstrong lived to see an era where people didn't follow in his footsteps, because the politicians and business people were too busy telling us how excited they are about engaging to create real value and making a difference with a Big Society vision that would mean we all live a life where we too can remember "every minute" of our most amazing night.

So actually, if you want to indulge in hyperbole, then if it's to do with Neil Armstrong, I'm actually going to give you a pass on that one.


  1. Thank you; the writing of it it seemed a worthwhile way to spend a Bank Holiday morning.

  2. I hope there's playback on the Group Comms...

    I do spout some tosh as discussed at lunch the other day. Thanks for the good read

    1. I don't know if there is an audio playback, but the slides are up on Connections. And you don't speak tosh!

  3. Only thing I disagree with is this: you are amazed at how much credibility businesses and politicians can lose trough poor language. I am amazed (and constantly disappointed) at how LITTLE they lose!

    Also, interesting that Coca-Cola's statement doesn't mention persecuting trade union affiliated workers in Turkey, turning a blind eye to murders in South America and destroying the water supplies of villages in the Indian sub-Continent.

    (also, I am aware of the irony of having a typo in this post, but the stupid blogger iPad interface won't let me edit it, and I've retyoed it twice already!)

    1. Fair point. They lose credibility with people who wouldn't have voted for them/cared for them anyway, so ultimately not with the people who will change anything!

      And yes, I didn't even touch on how Coca Cola's terrible reputation for condoning intimidation, and even murder, but it does render their mission/vision somewhat ironic.

  4. Also, on the Neil Armstrong thing, there's a good line in 'Educating Rita': we must not confuse tragedy-well the real tragedy of drama - with the merely tragic.

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