Monday, December 23, 2013

The vision thing

We save lives.
George H.W. Bush was a practical, nuts and bolts kind of guy, I suppose. He was a fighter pilot in World War II, and I'm told that pilots tend to be more mechanics than poets.

So maybe it was unfair that we all jumped on him when he uttered the vision sound bite.
In the January 26, 1987, issue of Time magazine, journalist Robert Ajemian reported that a friend of Bush's had urged him to spend several days at Camp David thinking through his plans for his prospective presidency, to which Bush is said to have responded in exasperation, 'Oh, the vision thing.' This oft-cited quote became a shorthand for the charge that Bush failed to contemplate or articulate important policy positions in a compelling and coherent manner. 
The phrase has since become a metonym for any politician's failure to incorporate a greater vision in a campaign, and has often been applied in the media to other politicians or public figures.
As someone who once led a small group trying to craft a vision statement for a global corporation, I sympathize with the former president. I can't remember what we came up with. I remember at one point I suggested: "Him with the most cookies wins."

I'm pretty sure the CEO took what we crafted and stuck the word profitably in there. He was big on reminding us that we were there to make money. Which, in the end, we didn't do, despite whatever our mission statement was, which is why the company went bankrupt. We didn't have the most cookies.

One day as our little group was hard at work, an executive stuck her head in the door and asked what we were doing. We told her. She said, well, I just bought frames for our current vision statement and they're hanging in every office around the world. If you write a longer statement, it won't fit in the frames.

One wonders how any company can ever make any money.

I did some research on mission statements at the time, and I recall one from a motorcycle helmet company: "We save lives." I recall that this was printed on a giant banner and hung over the assembly floor. I can't find a reference to it today, but I put it forth as an excellent example. It had to have inspired the employees, everyday. It elevated molded plastic to a higher plane.

Looking for it today, I came across a company that makes body armor. Safariland's motto is "Together, we save lives." I don't know to whom together refers; maybe buyer and seller. If they pay me a lot of money, I'll suggest they lose that word; they don't need it.

I think this is probably a pretty cool company. From an editor's point of view, however, I had to read a good way into its history to figure out that it sold body armor and other cool stuff. Okay, only an editor would fuss.

One real good thing: the company has documented 1,800 lives saved by its armor. That's way cool. That evidence is far more eloquent than any amount of cliches blended and extruded into a vision statement.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hey, look at me!

That would be me.
When I meet people in a professional setting I often feel that there's some kind of disconnect: something's not going right.

I, of course, assume they recognize that I'm the center of the universe. So I'm always disappointed. I think it's true that I learn more about them than they do about me. That's because I'm naturally curious -- you know, why would any self-respecting person be at this event? -- and also because I've learned to inquire about people in my many years as a journalist.

I'd like for them to know that I've been at the writing game as long as I have. Truth is, whatever they do I've probably done. I was at a seminar for job seekers recently, because I wanted to meet the presenter and offer my services to her clients. Her presentation was quite good, but I realized I could have given it. I've changed jobs so often, and worked with clients on their resumes and job searches, and I just know how it works.

Hey, look at me!

When you've been around as long as I have you find yourself working for much younger people. I have clients now who weren't even born when I started writing for a living. Heck, their parents weren't even married. Heck, they're parents were still in high school and picking at pimples.

Hey, read page ten of my resume!

I suddenly understood my predicament when I read an excellent piece by Dorie Clark on her Harvard Business Review blog. So that she won't have to, let me tell you upfront that she is a business strategy consultant, adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future.

She relates her own personal horror stories of being "misunderestimated," as our former president would say. She offers excellent advice on how to prepare before an anticipated meeting with someone and what to do after the initial encounter if the jerk wasn't paying attention.

And now I arrive at my reason for this post. Persuasion is successful when certain conditions are met. The first, according to Aristotle, is the "ethos" of the writer or speaker. This means the communicator's expertise and knowledge, as well as his overall moral character and history. If these are in good standing, the audience is more likely to accept what the writer or speaker says.

I can state with certainty that my wife and our three neurotic cats have no regard for my ethos.

You need to always ask: Does this person or this audience know that I know what I'm talking about? If the answer is no or you're not sure, you have some work to do. Dorie Clark's piece is a good start.