S4 Capital and Sir Martin Sorrell embrace the vagueness challenge

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Sir Martin Sorrell built WPP into an advertising powerhouse and then left under a cloud of allegations. Now he’s taking over a new venture called S4 Capital. It has something to do with advertising, but you’d never figure out what from the prospectus. Have a look at the cover. While it’s typical for a prospectus to … Continued

Coca-Cola Refreshments achieves record low meaning ratio of 4%

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If you have bad news, just come out with it. The more you bury it in self-serving bullshit, the more people will just think you’re a dishonest idiot. That’s what happened with today’s spectacularly opaque note from Coca-Cola Refreshments. Here’s the note that J.D. Lowry of Las Vegas found on the break room soda machine. … Continued

James Comey’s loud, empty shouts of ignorance on Clinton’s email

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FBI director James Comey has now dominated election news with his letters to Congress and to his staff about new developments in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But the letters are the political equivalent of a rice cake: crunchy, but with no actual nutritional content. First, the sordid background. The FBI is investigating former Congressman Anthony … Continued

Discovering emptiness — why I feel for Ernest Rutherford

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In the early 1900s, the physicist Ernest Rutherford discovered the emptiness at the heart of everything. In 2015, so did I. Ernest Rutherford, born in New Zealand, was an early experimenter in the field of radioactivity. Working at the University of Manchester, England, he investigated the mineral uranium and the stream of particles it emitted, which he … Continued

Sophisticated writing with simple words (Ask Dr. Wobs)

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One key to writing success is to use words that connect with your audience. The secret is not to rein in your vocabulary, but to keep the bullshit density under control. Dear Dr. Wobs: Is there a formula for figuring out exactly how much the vocabulary level in business writing needs to be “dumbed-down” depending … Continued

All merger announcements are bullshit, Dell-EMC included

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The fantasy world of merger announcements bears no resemblance to the reality of mergers. Michael Dell’s post about the Dell-EMC merger is a fine example. Why do companies merge? There’s always language about “complementary skills and assets,” but that’s always bullshit. There is always language about “serving customers better” but that is also bullshit. Companies merge for … Continued

With email, you can prove you’re an idiot in 150 words or less

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Short email is a great idea. But even a short email can be vacuous. A short, dumb email is the quickest possible way to make a bad impression. Learn not to be boring. Here’s a recruiting email that Ken Camp received. It’s not only short, it’s spectacularly content-free. Here’s the whole thing, meaningless words in bold: Subject: Opportunity Good … Continued

When the “meaning ratio” drops to zero, you’ve got a problem

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Every word you write should be meaningful. We can measure this as the “meaning ratio,” which should approach 100%. Conversely, when the meaning ratio nears zero, you’ve got froth, not content, which is an accurate characterization of the job description I analyze today. The brilliant Edward Tufte analyzes graphics with the “data-ink ratio”: the proportion of ink in … Continued