Why the Old English Concept of Kindness Holds the Key to Effective Business Communication
As fascinating as I find the scholarship on persuasion and consumer behavior, I’ve learned far more about psychology from novelists than from social scientists.
The great American writer Henry James stands out among these timeless mentors, and a quote from him sums up much of my personal theory of communication:
“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
In this statement, the simplicity of the language speaks vo…
Do You Have What it Takes to Be a T-Shaped Founder?
One of the hidden treasures of Toronto’s public library system is the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, tucked away in an unassuming building on the south edge of the University of Toronto campus. As a doctoral student, I savored the time I spent there, combing through stacks of century-old picture books and calling those hours of sheer delight “research” into Victorian culture.
A hundred years from now, I wonder what children’s books in the Osborne Collection will say about today’s…
How to Use History to Sell Innovation
Dip into any field of art—literature, painting, music, dance—and you’ll quickly discover that the concept of “originality” is problematic.
Was Shakespeare the most original playwright of his time, or just the cleverest borrower of plots and characters? Was Picasso an iconoclast, or by so obviously defying the “rules” did he also show them reverence?
When I was immersed in the world of literary scholarship, much of my thinking was shaped by theories of “intertextuality.” Intertextuality ackno…
Two Hidden Reasons Pitch Decks Fail to Deliver
Every piece of external communication you produce serves as an ambassador for your startup, from a short email confirming a meeting to grant applications and social media posts. Among all these delegates you send out into the world to convey your value proposition, the pitch deck bears an overwhelming burden.
We tend to expect a pitch deck to accomplish amazing things. We assume that, in just a dozen or so slides, it will intrigue the audience, argue a complete business case, outline a comprehe…
Why Assessment is the Real Secret to Improving Your Messaging
A few years ago, a former academic colleague and I were reminiscing about another colleague, who was a mentor to me during my first year of teaching.
Reflecting on our different journeys as writing teachers, Colleague #1 said of Colleague #2, “She always seemed to me rather obsessed with assessment.”
Peacemaker that I am, I smiled at this comment–but internally I did a mental fist pump.
“You’re darn right!” I thought to myself. “If there’s one thing a writing instructor should be obsessed wi…
Have you seen the latest knowledge translation movie?
Until last week, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a KT film. But The Trick (2021) definitely fits that bill. It offers a fascinating, and frightening, glimpse into the pressures that threaten the accurate, ethical communication of scientific research.
The British flick presents one version of the scandal that swirled around the University of East Anglia in 2009. That’s when a hacker (who’s never been identified) leaked emails from the Climactic Research Unit (CRU). Taken out of context a…
How to overcome binge writing
Five simple ways to escape the procrastination cycle
“The best way for me to write is under pressure.”
“Procrastination works for me. I can only write if I’m staring down a deadline.”
“There’s no sense even trying to start a document until it’s the eleventh hour–I just can’t focus otherwise.”
I find it odd to hear so many workplace writers turn procrastination into a virtue when, in most other aspects of our life, we treat it as a weakness to resist. The trouble is that procrastinating on a …
The real reasons technical proposals flop
Most technical proposals don’t flop because they’re not precise enough about technical matters. They fail because the writers self-sabotage by focusing on themselves rather than on their readers.
Here are eight common pitfalls to avoid the next time you write a proposal:
1. Showing off your enthusiasm
The pitfall: You write at length about how pleased, honoured, thrilled, excited, and so on you are to have the opportunity to submit a proposal for such an awesome opportunity.
Why it’s damagi…
Why "think before you write" is terrible advice
In his classic work of cultural theory, Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga begins with an apology for the limitations of his research, saying, "To fill in all the gaps in my knowledge beforehand was out of the question for me. I had to write now, or not at all. And I wanted to write."
My mind often “thinks” in cartoons, and as I read these words, I picture Huizinga dashing out of the library at Leiden University—knocking down a shelf of books in his haste—and making a bee-line for his office like a fo…
Why America's simplicity prophet bungles simple writing
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” That’s the mantra of Henry Thoreau, who in 1845 took to the woods beside Walden Pond (just outside Concord, Massachusetts), to strip his mode of living down to the bare essentials. For two and a half years, he lived in a one-room log cabin he built himself, grew much of his own food, and became a self-appointed prophet of an anti-industrial lifestyle. The book that resulted from this this experiment, Walden, is still an inspiring and challenging read for any…
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