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Saturday, 9 October 2010

How jargon (with a dash of political correctness) killed a nice man

Last year I did a talk to some Syracuse University students about Ethics in Advertising.

Quite a challenge. I had to start by confessing to having done a few things in my time that I am ashamed of, but then told a true story about how bad advertising killed a good man.

And now it seems that jargon can have much the same effect

If you read my witterings you know that I hate jargon. I often quote Confucius who said that if he had the power to do anything he would ensure that language was used correctly,

"Because if language is not used correctly, what is said is not what is meant; that which should be done is left undone; justice and morals are led astray; and the people stand around in helpless confusion."

This seems to pretty well sum up what is happening in our society except that in the places where I live and work the people are often drunk as well as being confused.

Well, yesterday I read how poor use of language - jargon, to be exact - killed one of my neighbours. I didn't know the victim, but one of my two best friends says he was, besides being very able, a very nice man.

Let me tell you the story in case you haven't heard it. The man in question was a brilliant lawyer called Mark Saunders who lived near me in Chelsea, and last year he was surrounded by a small army of 59 police including a number of trained marksmen and shot dead.

This happened because he was out of his head after ingesting an alarming combination of Prozac, Cocaine and booze and aimed a few rather haphazard shots with a shotgun out of his window.

The question is, why was he killed? He need not have been. Any one of these highly trained marksmen could have wounded him, but seven aimed to kill, and succeeded almost simultaneously.

It is not quite clear who was in charge of this sad business, but it seems a corrupt copper called Ali Dizaei (promoted to a very high level, no doubt for reasons of political correctness) had muscled in and taken over.

But the main reason for the tragedy is that no-one knew quite what they should be doing. It seems police have to wade through over 300 pages of badly written waffle in at least six different manuals to know what to do in these circumstances.

Compare this with the way in 1940 Churchill asked the head of the Admiralty to "write down on one side of a sheet of paper what the Royal Navy is doing to prepare for war

The coroner - whose job it is to determine why people die on these occasions - suggested police be told what to do in "simple, unsophisticated language thereby minimising jargon – indeed, encouraging more common sense rather than slavish adherence to written documents and protocols."

I realise that many people who attend business meetings may feel like killing themselves as a result of the dreary tripe they have to listen to, but so far nobody's had to call the police in.

Just as well.

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