Build or burn?

Farmers and Poets

A colleague of mine came back from a corporate away day and told me this story.

A rather grand Dutch executive was expounding a theory that there are two types of people in the world: farmers and poets.  His point was that you can’t expect farmers to become poets or poets to be farmers.  At this point my colleague, who was from Northern Ireland, stuck up his hand and reminded the Dutchman about Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, who was a farmer for most of his life.

And the moral of this story?  It might be to never put people into boxes and make assumptions about them.  But I’m inclined to think it is never interrupt a rather grand Dutch executive when he’s trying to make a point.

There’s not much call for poetry in business writing.  The closest we get is the pithy remark on a powerpoint slide.  I had a colleague who couldn’t read a paragraph of prose without wanting to tear it apart and turn it into a bullet point list.

The best advice I ever had on business writing was to compose an email, putting in everything you want to say and then, just before you press send, cut the very last sentence and paste it at the top, making it the very first sentence.  You’d be amazed at how often this works with no subsequent editing required.  It’s called BLUF – bottom line up front.  It’s the stock in trade of journalists.

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