Feb 22

Be Careful What You Say

As the sun rose across the eastern suburbs of Melbourne this morning, I sat down outside and sipped some water after an hour of Kata practice.  Kata is the physical language of the art of Karate-do, the form, the vessel that contains the ‘correct’ version of all possible combat moves;  strikes, blocks, holds, evasions and their unlimited combinations.

The Kata of language is the practice of words.  Words, which in combination; give context and meaning, enrich a conversation, carry a discussion, develop an argument, persuade a buyer, impress an audience.  In Karate Kata, some moves get more attention than others – the flashy ones. Dynamic, authoritative and beautifully performed, they excite observers and stir the imagination.  In business, evocative words like; Passionate, Innovative, Motivated, Disruptive, Proactive, Strategic, Tailored, Enabler, Solution etc. do the same, all pointing to excellence and a perfect state.

Like Kata images, the written word appears more powerful than the spoken.  A layman can easily copy Kata moves and a good copier can look like a trained Karateka for a while.  But ask them what these moves are, why they’re used and what they achieve, or better, physically test them, and they won’t be able to show any purpose or intent.  Inexperienced business people and good copiers have the same opportunity with the language of business.  Evocative language and convincing lists like “The 5 Principles…”, “The 7 Secrets…”, “The 10 Best…” look impressive, but unless written by wise people (and not copied from them) they are no more than what dancing is to combat.

Kata is a sequence of movements performed with serious intent in the pursuit of perfection – but it can never be perfect.  If it could, I wouldn’t need to keep practicing. Similarly, doing business is the pursuit of a collection of goals where perfection is out of reach because there are too many variables and uncertainties.  We just don’t know if the words we see and hear come from students or masters – including the ones you’re reading now – so why is it that we listen so intently, quote, re-tweet, share, like, dislike and endorse so prolifically?  How can we distinguish wise words from empty attention grabbers?  There’s no practical measure.  The martial arts have belts, academia has degrees, intelligence has quotients and experience has grey hair – yet, absent of qualification, it’s impossible to discern the wise from the otherwise.

The spreading of certain information gives currency to bad ideas and unproven notions.  You would have seen the 4 Corners exposé proving that anti-oxidants were of zero benefit in the ‘fight’ against cancer and in some cases, were harmful.  In trials going back to the 90’s, the Harvard School of Public Health found no tangible benefits and most other research teams reported that antioxidant supplements didn’t protect against heart disease or cancer at all.  One study showed that taking beta-carotene could increase the chances of developing lung cancer in smokers.  Despite more than two-decades of evidence-based debunking, the colourful and inspirational language of the complementary medicine industry still spruiks its life-enhancing benefits and even accuses avoiders of ignorance and neglect.

The message? (and not just another list)

  • Social and business media feeds on reader appeal and volume, not quality.  How many ‘lists of’ does it take to make your business better?
  • Appearing to have experience and wisdom is not the same as having it.  Be aware of the potential-to-fail of projects that, despite slick processes and management, could deliver no results and little or no value.
  • There is no ‘I’ in collaborate.  Get closer to your business partners, listen to their wisdom and ask them to participate in your unattainable but worthwhile strive for perfection.

Reassign approaches client engagements with energy, enjoyment and a commitment to improve.  We are naturally skeptical (even cynical) of untested views and quick fixes.  We know that successful interventions require engagement and commitment and that dramatic words and enticing headlines don’t equate to sustainable benefits.  We ensure that Procurement activities in your business not only look like Kata but are Kata.

A Karate black belt is the beginning of a road that never ends.  The journey has no short cuts but, with careful practice, plenty of rewards, that’s why I’m on it.