HD English

The rapid advance in 21st-century technology affects (some would say, controls) every aspect of our lives, whether at home, school or work.  And it’s now become so ingrained that we barely notice it. For example, by far the most visible of today’s technological achievements is the one we think least about — the transition from old-school cathode ray tubes that required a whole army to install, to flat screens you can carry in your pocket or hang on a wall.

Actually, when you think about it, the characteristics of today’s most impressive screens are a great metaphor for the transformative power of language.  With this in mind, today I’d like to introduce you to a new technology. I call it HD English. So, what’s in the box?

  • Clarity and sharpness: In 2020, why would you seriously put up with a blurred, incoherent, out-of-tune message when you can have language that’s more vivid, colourful, and true-to-life than it’s ever been? That’s the beauty of high definition English.
  • Better upscaling: English used to be bulky and heavy (think of those endless Powerpoint presentations). But HD is lighter, brighter, and more efficient. Of course, you can still enjoy the classics, but with a good provider like English Wanted you’ll find even old material looks fresher and cleaner.
  • Personal experience: HD English is available everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s just ‘one size fits all’. These days you choose what you want from the widest variety of content and style, and make your writing and presentations truly individual. Say goodbye to single-use English: today’s technology allows you to stay up-to-date and personal.

See? Properly used, English can be as powerful and transformative as TV. To find out more, contact English Wanted. I’d be happy to give you a tour of our latest technology.

The unbearable lightness of lying

milankunderaquote

Business presentations have come a long way from the dry recitation of quarterly results, the predictable analysis of strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, and the proposed strategic plan ‘going forward’.

These days it’s pretty much de rigeur to liven up your presentation with a slide containing an inspirational quotation from Gandhi, Churchill, Einstein, or some other admirable historical figure. The further they are removed from the world of business the better – it makes them sound more authentic.

But in the absence of one of these global gurus, many coaches and public speakers are happy to plump for any canny definition from a contemporary business leader or (preferably) ‘influencer’. Take this for example: “Business has two — and only two — basic functions: marketing and innovation.”

Set against a landscape of rolling hills, this snappy blue-sky quotation is the perfect opener, instantly clearing away the clutter and causing us to look at the world of business afresh, through the eyes of …. who? Now who did say that? Seth Godin? Bill Gates? Donald Trump? Alan Sugar?

Try again. According to the internet, these are the sententious words of none other than Milan Kundera, the Czech-born, Paris-dwelling author of the darkly ironic The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and The Joke.

Now to anyone who has read him, the attribution to Kundera really seems somewhat unlikely. After all, this author, whose works combine political satire and philosophical musings on humanity and fate, is not known for his pronouncements on the business world. Yet here they are, slide after slide (I have shown only two on this page), showing the brooding Kundera now re-cast as business guru, the rebellious author as social media influencer.

milankunderaquote2

So widespread is the error that even the hallowed Economist has included the ‘Milan Kundera’ line in its 2012 Book of Business Quotations. In fact, it may well be its inclusion in that weighty tome that has convinced many internet users that the quotation must be authentic.

But if not Kundera, who exactly did come out with this (after all fairly platitudinous) bit of business-speak? Well, it will hardly surprise many readers from the world of corporate management to learn that the actual author was Peter Drucker, the highly prolific ‘father of management thinking’. In Drucker’s 1954 book The Practice of Management, we find the following: “Any business enterprise has two — and only two — basic functions: marketing and innovation.” Bingo.

Yet a number of websites — including one called Marketing Insider Group — still defend the attribution to Kundera, with sentences like these:

(Knowledge drop: Most people attribute the above quote to Peter Drucker who clearly borrowed from the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being when he said:  “Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two – and only these two – basic functions: marketing and innovation.” But Milan said it first.)

What? When he was only 15 years old?

Now my real problem with all this is that if the opening slide of the presentation gets the quote wrong, or happily goes ahead and attributes it to the wrong person (and the example of Milan Kundera is — believe me — just the tip of the iceberg), then why on earth should we trust the slides that come next?

Why might the graphs showing growth over the last quarter not also be riddled with mistakes, accidental or otherwise? Why might the strategic plan not be copied from another company’s website? (after all, plagiarism is not unknown, even in the world of business). And why might not some of those great corporate strengths actually be weaknesses?

I imagine some readers find my objection to those using ‘fake news’ somewhat flippant. Just ask then, was the chart showing diesel emissions to Volkswagen shareholders accurate? Do documents listing workplace policies on pay and conditions always resemble the truth? Or are they, too, examples of ‘sliding truths’?

So much of what we see at first sight in a presentation is superficial, and sadly is too easily accepted by the audience.

It is our job to question it. That’s hard, but it has to be done. Or, as Milan Kundera noted: ‘On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.’