I looked over at a colleague’s screen this morning.
On it, in a state of being typeset, was a headline.
“There is no outcome without a team.”
And at that moment I had a blinding revelation.
Not quite a Damascene moment, but a flash of something.
A flash of desire.
A flash of desire for a revolution.
A revolution in the language of business.
In the language of businesses, brands, economics, politics, all of it.
Right now, we’re stuck in a place where, bluntly: people just don’t believe the majority of what institutions say.
There’s lots of reasons for this.
One is the sheer banality of what’s being said.
And the dull way it is delivered.
“There is no outcome without a team.”
Well, there is, actually.
Stasis. Inertia. Loss. There’s three outcomes for you.
Or maybe: Glory. Heroism. Victory.
There’s another three, that might happen if an individual decides not to worry about a team, and gets on with getting an outcome.
The point being: most of what passes for corporate writing, tone of voice, verbal identity these days is anaemic, pallid, bland.
Scared of its own shadow.
There are lots of reasons why; some understandable, some less so.
The fear of giving offence. The fear of being misunderstood. The fear of being understood. The fear of standing out. The fear of not standing out. The fear of taking a risk.
Or perhaps there are more structural reasons.
The need to write lots and lots and lots more than any organisation ever had to. The need to show that you can use the jargon even though you don’t know what it means. The need to try and to latch on to every meme and shoehorn your organisation in there. The need to keep regulators happy. The need to write in teams and committees, so unanimity is only achieved by being polite.
We’re now in a place where it’s not happiness that writes white. It’s everything.
And so one of the most vital life changing ideas that our species has ever conceived of — capitalism — with all its virtues, vices, vicissitudes — is rendered meh.
Animal spirits, buccaneering, exploring reduced to salaryman blues and 8–7 anomie.
We say, to our clients, our agencies, our staff, each other: be fearless.
And yet, somehow, our language says anything but, the opposite: we are afraid.
To be different.
It is the times, you will say. It is what it is, you will say. It is the loss of hope, you will say, the fear of extinction, that we can’t trust each other, ourselves.
The point is: it is always the times. And the times can be changed.
The times should be changed.
So why not you? With your pad, your pen, your keyboard, your Notes app?
Why not say: this brief can be more than simple, forgettable? It can be rococo, curlicue, in love with its own sense of possibility and change, full of clauses and semi colons and all the things the good writing guides tell you to eschew — full of words like ‘eschew’ for heaven’s sake — full of daring and verve and joy and wisdom and repetition and repetition and life and life and life. It can go on and on and on, because if you are brave enough you can grab your reader, your listener by the heart and say, listen! listen! this is might just change your life, save your life, make it better just for a moment, or maybe even forever. And that it can be sold in, to the scared, the sceptical. Maybe not first time. Maybe not second. Maybe not even third. But eventually. Because you’re playing a longer game, a better game, a forever game.
A game you must win, because it matters more.
Because we build our worlds out of language.
So if you want a better world, the best world possible, you need the best language. The language of most resistance, that causes people to stop. To notice. To think. To act. To start.
Language that’s so irresistible it can’t be resisted.
Wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that be a revelation? Wouldn’t that be revolution?
Wouldn’t that be an outcome?