Posts Tagged ‘change’
No, this isn’t a lead-in to a bad joke.
Paleontologists like Jack Horner have been doing research that shows there are some genetic markers that dinosaurs and present-day birds, like chickens, may share. Some scientists challenge whether birds or dinosaurs came first, but a traditional view suggests that birds represent evolution at its best; in essence, that today’s birds began as dinosaurs that adapted to the environment in order for the species to survive.
Organizations are not exactly like dinosaurs, but they do experience “evolution” or change throughout the year, as does the world around us. Each day presents an organization with opportunities to adapt in order to survive and hopefully, to grow. Both private and public sector organizations that adapt most effectively can find themselves operating in new places, serving others in new ways, and attracting talented new employees, with the end result of adding even more value to the world around them during the process. For-profit organizations often have the added incentive of increasing revenue or market share by adapting and evolving in this way. Organizations that resist adaptation can find themselves “extinct,” or at the very least, wondering why their employees and customers are looking elsewhere for a fresh approach to the services or opportunities that their organization once provided.
What about you? How have you adapted to your environment this year? The same opportunity to adapt and grow exists each day that you choose to come to work. The start of a new year is also a great time to take a fresh look at the next step in your professional development. What will it look like for you to continue to evolve, adapt, and add value to your organization next year?
I am a practical person. Oh, no doubt I love discussing the theory and craft of professional development; dreaming great dreams is how we move forward. But we live in the here and the now, and I’m happy to accept that theory doesn’t do very well at bringing home the bacon—at least not for most of us.
So after years of teaching grammar and writing, I’ve come up with three timeless, practical grammar rules for the business environment—yes, grammar rules with no exceptions:
Rule number one: When in doubt, rewrite it!
Oh, you know the grammar rule for whatever it is you are writing, but does your reader? And if your reader doesn’t know the rule, how well is he or she likely to understand what you’re trying to communicate? Ultimately, writing is about communicating as perfectly as possible what it is that you want to say. Consider this example:
“When the Harley Roadster hit the 100 year-old oak tree, it was badly damaged.”
You may have it clear in your mind that the poor old oak was badly damaged—a grammar rule would back you on this—but logic would lead the reader to surmise otherwise. When editing your document, always try to see the various ways someone can interpret what you’ve written. If readers can misinterpret your writing, try again. Rewrite it.
Here’s a better way to write the sentence above: “When the Harley Roadster hit the 100 year-old oak tree, the bike was badly damaged.” By simply replacing the pronoun “it” with “the bike,” there’s now no doubt in the reader’s mind about what you meant to say.
Rule number two: The “boss rule”
Stop beating your head against the wall; in the end, what the boss says is what you should do. If you can’t handle that, it’s time to get a job somewhere else. And yes, this applies to writing style and grammar. If you have a good relationship with your boss, go ahead and push back on her insistence that you eliminate the comma before the conjunction and in a list or series. The shocking truth is that there are very few hard and fast grammar rules. Grammar is as much about preference and style—current style—as it is about rules.
In every class I teach I hear the complaint, “You recommend we write it this way, but my boss insists that we write it a different way.” Okay, write it that way! Unless there’s a grammar rule—a real, no-kidding, documented grammar rule—to the contrary, do what the boss suggests.
And that brings me to rule number three: Language changes. Get over it!
Did I really start a sentence with the word And? Yes. And from time to time, I’ll start a sentence with But. Or I might—dare I say it—end a sentence with a preposition. Gadzooks! I might even use a contraction in my business correspondence. Guess what? It’s okay to do so; the former president of the United States said I could use “common, everyday words” in my business writing. Go ahead and google President Clinton’s 1998 Plain Language Memorandum.
In a recent writing class comprised of federal employees, when I brought up that the Plain Language Memorandum suggests it’s acceptable to use contractions (common, every-day words), I nearly had a revolt on my hands. “It’s unprofessional!” several declared. Another participant complained, “I was told that I shouldn’t use contractions in business writing.” I smiled and calmly asked the class, “Would you consider your responses unprofessional or inappropriate?” “Of course not,” was the response. I followed, “But all of your statements just contained contractions.” Silence.
I don’t write using the language of my ancestors. I can’t tell you the last time I used the expression “four score and seven years ago” in a note to my boss. Nor did our forefathers write in the language of Shakespeare, just as Shakespeare did not write in the language of Beowulf. Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that we riddle our documents with the expressions “dude” and “um.” But our language evolves and our writing evolves along with the spoken language—thankfully. Yet for some reason we are uncomfortable with changing our writing.
Maybe this says more about human nature than grammar, but it’s okay to move forward in our writing.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about our changing business writing “rules.”
Fellow Baby Boomers, I am embarrassed…dare I say, appalled?
As a facilitator for leadership classes, I have the privilege of hearing, first-hand, concerns from supervisors of all levels. One overwhelming complaint is that they are tired of the newest workforce generation–the millennials–continually asking “why?”
Have we forgotten our roots? We were the generation that questioned everything; indeed, the Boomer mantra was “question authority!” We implored compatriots to not trust anyone over 30.
The problem is that we soon turned 31 and older. And when we did, we found that some of the establishment’s perspectives actually were reasonable and valuable. Somehow, we slowly devolved into the very same cynical, unreflective, unyielding leaders as our traditionalist forebears. So now, as supervisors, we get frustrated when our subordinates don’t just march off and execute the orders we bark out. We’ve taken on a new mantra borrowed from a well-known sports advertising campaign: “Just do it!”
Answering “the why” is how we avoid complacency—how great change occurs. New generations are sent to us for a reason: to keep us thinking and moving forward.
So, fellow Boomers, embrace “the why,” encourage “the why,” enjoy “the why.” But if you really want to reach back to your past, preempt “the why” by not only thinking and executing great thoughts yourselves, but by extroverting those thoughts so subsequent generations can understand and learn to think great thoughts too.