Sunday, July 29, 2012

Did I Really Hear What I Think You Said?

In this age of instant communication, the burden for interpretation and perception falls on the receiver, not the sender. It has become a tragic game to see how to best edit a statement or speech to change its intended meaning in order to support some other point of view.  So it is up to the listener/reader to understand exactly what was written or said.  We cannot take things at face value because we risk making a mistake.  Let me explain.

In my writing blog, Bits of Biz, I recently addressed the need for an editor.  The crux of the matter is that our brains interpret words and not individual letters.  As long as the words begin and end with the correct letter, what lies between can be a mess and we will still read the words correctly.  So we "see" wagon even when it is written woagn.

Unfortunately, this trick can play havoc with the truth. The truth in the example above is that the word is misspelled.  The word is not wagon.  

Believing what we hear or see, even when it seems to be devoid of logic, is the reason that urban legends have a life. We all have a habit of assuming we know what we heard or read and basing our judgments on that.

Interpreting what we see (or hear) is part of the communication process.  While we depend on the writer or speaker to make themselves clear, it is also our responsibility to make sure that we see the letters exactly as written, not as we think they are.  When we hear something, it is our responsibility to be sure we heard all of what was said.  This applies to commercials, news stories, cartoons, and political statements.  

Just as proofreading my books is a challenge getting the whole story or statement is hard work. It requires that we set aside what we think we heard or read and go after what is really there. How do we do that? Read or watch the same story in different locations.  Notice that the lead story on ABC is not necessarily the same story that opens on CBS. I am particularly aware of this on my local news. Or compare CNN to PBS to Fox; the Tribune to the Times to the Daily News.  (Insert name of your paper.)  

With careful "proofreading," you can get past the tricks and find the true word, story or intent.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ralph - Did You Listen?

Much has been said and written about the Ralph Lauren uniforms for the US Olympic team. The Internet is abuzz with comments about the poor design and where the clothing was manufactured.  Suffice it to say, there has been little said in support of either.

The decisions about design and manufacturing were ill-conceived, as Mr. Lauren now knows.  My question - where were his advisers?  Lauren did not make these decisions in a vacuum.  Did no one in his organization have concerns? 

My guess - someone or several someones thought this was a bad idea.  I also guess they kept quiet because they wanted to keep their jobs.  It's too bad.  All the bad feelings about Ralph Lauren and his company could have been avoided if there had been some real and open communication. 

For a brief period, I worked in retail. I watched meetings in which the buyers laid out the monthly ad and the operations people picked those ads apart. Because the ops attendees were counted on to find the problems, they felt comfortable voicing their concerns and opinions. Many a snafu was avoided because the ops manager questioned the lack of an expiration date on a coupon or pointed out a potential delivery problem.  Apparently the Ralph Lauren company does not have the same open forum.

If I am wrong and someone did point out the issues with the uniforms, how and why was that person overruled?  Communication is critical to the success of any venture.  The lack of communication can cause unforeseen problems that can take years for a company or a person to overcome. 

Ralph Lauren - Listen to your people.  That's why you have them, isn't it?  If they don't feel comfortable saying what they think, then look at yourself and your management style.  Now that we live and work in an environment where things go viral in seconds, having negative comments about your product be a lead story on national news is not the way to go.  Is it?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Olympic Committee - What Are You Saying?

OK - so I'm jumping on the bandwagon about the ill-conceived uniforms for the 2012 US Olympic team.  Lots has been said about the poor design and the Chinese manufacturing. 

First, let's examine the look.  There is nothing inherently "American" in the design. Nothing screams USA.  The uniform does not communicate that this team is representing us.  We do not see ourselves in the clothes.  Another complaint about the design is that the Polo logo is over the heart where we put our hands when we pledge allegiance or when the national anthem is played.  (Are we pledging to Polo?) Although the cap was more golf hat than beret in 2008, the logo was in the same place and the overall parade uniform was basically identical what what we have today.

Secondly, the clothing is made in China.  In the 2008, the collection was also made in China.  Again, nothing has changed.

We must remember that Ralph Lauren is not just a man.  It is a corporation.  Lauren does not design and produce the Olympic clothing out of the kindness of its heart.  Lauren expects to make money...a lot of money.  In fact, even with all the furor, the stock price is up.

Perhaps we should be looking at the US Olympic Committee instead and asking what they were thinking?  After all, the USOC asks for bids and obviously does not stipulate that the uniforms be made in the US.  The collection was made in Canada in 2010 and I recall there was some negative reaction at the time.  It was not enough to trigger a change, however.  The USOC also approved the design.  It is so similar to 2008 that it probably should have been vetoed for lack of ingenuity.

The real change in this year's controversy is one of communication.  People voiced their reaction in social networking and suddenly it was a big deal.  That's a good thing.  Maybe as a result, we'll get good looking outfits in 2014 and some US workers will have jobs.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Local News from Faraway Places

This being an election year, I avoid the news because I can't stand the 30-second sound bites of meaningless jabber and the pages of print given over to interpretation of those meaningless sound bites.  However, before I went on my hiatus, I did notice a change in my local newspaper.

It was subtle. I wasn't sure what specifically was different, just that something was.  Then a colleague sent me an article about how local news has been outsourced to foreign writers.  (Read the article here.) 

This explains it.  What I noticed was an alternation in the paper's style. 

Every language has its nuances, structures, and cultural references. It is one reason why a friend of mine who immigrated to the US from Central America as a girl still struggles for understanding even after twenty-five years of being in the US.  She was not raised on Flip Wilson and missed out on Hotel California. Any joke or story based on tidbits from earlier times has no meaning for her.  We might as well speak Russian as to throw in a reference to the dead man's hand in poker. 

So it is with stories written by people who do not speak conversational American. Foreign writers are not literate in American culture. They may write perfect English but it lacks the rhythm and style of someone from northern Illinois. 

I make no comment here about the good or bad inherent in outsourcing our news gathering to a foreign country.  I do however voice concern that stories prepared by foreigner reporters may not communicate the news appropriately simply because the writers might incorrectly state the information. To be specific, how can someone in the Philippines understand the meaning of a Lake County, Illinois reference to Bulldozer Bob? 

There is so much more to communication than simple words.  In the media corporations' efforts to protect the bottom line, outsourcing appears to be a great way to save money. I just hope the true meaning of the news doesn't get lost in the process.