MORE WORDS, MORE MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS: what writers in the business world can learn from taking a poetry class

When it comes to business writing, I have two huge problems

  1. I use big words when I don’t need to. Like parallax. As far as I know that’s what happens when the Lorax makes a website[1]
  2. I have no idea what grammar is. I don’t know if that’s a full sentence. Or that one. Total mystery to me[2].

Today I wrote about “leveraging purchase triggers with analytics.” I know. I don’t know what it means either. And neither did the client. But everyone was too embarrassed to call it out. No one wants to be dumb in a meeting, so business writing has become this crazy game of poker where EVERYONE is bluffing.

I watched eight really incredibly smart people argue about the meaning of a “high touch” client experience. The answer is that it didn’t matter – we should just say “YO, WE’RE THE FUCKING BEST AT ANSWERING EMAILS IN LIKE AN HOUR OR SO.”

But we didn’t, and the question is why?

Big words are starting to become more and more like social capital. Being in on the latest jargon is like knowing that band that no one has ever heard of[3]. The hipster ideal of hoarding things[4] to show value has seeped into the business world. Being able to casually discuss multiplatform strategies while sipping a cool glass of SAP analytics is the new cool[5].

When I was writing poetry at Bucknell, we were hammered on leaving everything out.  “Don’t use a shorter word when a smaller word will do” was a mantra I heard constantly. Keep your reader guessing.

Now that I’ve moved onto another world with clearly different values, I still pine for the wonderful succinctness that poetry offered. I really wish I could turn in a marketing proposal like this:

 

Your newly launched product

Like the newborn faun

Will struggle and wobble as it

Finds balance between hoof and ground

Expect it, rejoice in it

But let us soothe your transition

With data and strategic media

 

Unfortunately CEO’s don’t hire people based on their meter. If they did Emily Dickinson would be fucking BALLING OUT. Straight Rick Ross status (boss)[6].

But I do think there is something that the business world could learn from poetry. Say what you mean. Say it simply. Love and marvel at the beauty of sincere statement that doesn’t take forty graphs and 10,000 words.


[1] That said I will never use the word “synergy”.  That word is to business proposals what porn is to the internet – used and hated by everyone.

[2] Things that are not a mystery to me: Sasquatch (totally real), men’s fashion, the top taco spots in LA (Tacozawa in Echo Park, and Zermano’s in Hollywood), and how to make it in America.

[3] For example “Evergreen strategy” is the Mayer Hawthorne of jargon words. Incidentally, Mayer Hawthorne is the single best thing of all time – like six or eight times better than the Pyramids. Google him, light a candle, and listen to “Maybe So, Maybe No”. You can send your “thank you high five” via pay pal.

[4] Food, music, art, books, rolled up jeans, fake glasses, and the reintroduction of the bowtie into casual experiences

[5] I realize that I’m playing fast and loose with the word “cool” here

[6] After writing this I went down an internet rabbit hole filled with Rick Ross Lyrics and stumbled across this gem “Who the f*ck you think you f*ckin with, im the f*ckin boss 745 white on white thats f*ckin ross”. Remember, you can PayPal those high fives.

 

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