Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sir Richard Branson Makes Me Sweat...

I'm about 80 per cent through Sir Richard Branson's risquely-titled new book, Screw Business As Usual, and I'm sweating profusely with inspiration from chapter to chapter, page to page. In this book, he champions his mantra: "Do good, have fun and the money will come". He illustrates with examples how "businesses, from commercial enterprises to those run by social entrepreneurs, can grow and thrive by doing the right thing". Here are three examples that I like.

Having been in the education industry for the most part of my working life, I'm inspired by his story about a dyslexic,  Peter Avis, and how he makes it good at one of Branson's businesses. At the age of 17, when he was looking at the various career options open to him, his headmaster told him: "Some people are made to sweep the streets and, unfortunately, you are one of those people". Peter, the no-hoper, who started off as a dishwasher, battled the odds and went on to manage Babylon, a restaurant owned by Virgin Limited Edition.

Yet, before Peter Avis worked at Babylon, whenever success stared him in the face, he would resign for fear that his dyslexia would be discovered. His transformation is only possible because, as Branson explains, "Virgin people are happy people...and because of that they love their jobs and stay in them. It's not just that the staff like working at Virgin- we value and respect them". In 2008 Peter Avis was voted Restaurant Manager of the Year and in 2009 Babylon was named Toptable Best Restaurant.

Branson's story about how at the age of 15 he decided that he wanted to get into the world to "continue my education in life" also makes inspiring reading. Like Peter Avis, he is also deslexic. Quite interestingly he nurtured a secret ambition to be a journalist, and at age 16 started Student, a magazine that would engage people to talk about "issues facing young people in the sixties, like the Vietnam War, racism, sexual health, and son on". An old letter he wrote to his school principal to explain  his reason for wanting to quit his school at Stowe shows the self-assurance and confidence that continue to serve him well in life and in business: "By leaving this summer I feel I can give more to Stowe and Britain..." Wow!

I also enjoy reading his anecdote of a KwaZulu woman who stopped him while he was visiting Ulusaba, Virgin's private game reserve in South Africa. "Mr Richard," she said, "I've heard you are a very generous man. Can you lend me money to buy a sewing machine?" Branson gave her the $300 she requested and she said she would "repay it within three months and employ six people full-time". When she left, Branson thought to himself that he would probably never see his money again. Three months later, when he visited a village to open some community projects supported by Virgin Unite, he was surprised when six women came up to him and gave him "a gift of the most exquisite cotton pillows and tribal clothes which they had made. And to complete my surprise, they returned the $300". But the entrepreneurial seamstress was nowhere to be seen as she was "off to the market selling the products".

Friday, December 21, 2012

Can you do this?

Go to this LINK to read more.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Biz Writing - When Do We Jargonize?

Generally, in business writing, it is advisable to avoid the unnecessary use of jargon. For example, it is perfectly alright for a doctor to call up a pharmacist to send some sidenafil over to his clinic. But a patient from a non-medical background who is suffering from a flagging libido would only be nonplussed if the doctor tells him that he needs a prescription of  sidenafil instead of the famous brand name, Viagra.

Back in 2001, I took my children to Bangalore, India. On the very first night, both of them came down with fever and vomiting. I took a cab to a private hospital and went straight to the dispensary. The pharmacist who attended to me looked puzzled when I asked him for some Panadol. Then he asked me what it was for. After my explanation, he said what I needed was paracetamol. It was then that I realized that Panadol is the brand name used in Malaysia, but in India, paracetamol is sold under a different brand name. In this instance, I knew what paracetamol was, and there was no information gap between us. The message wasn't lost.

In business writing, it's always important to understand your audience. if you know that your readers are technical people, by all means shoot your jargon at them. In most situations, your readers are likely to comprise both technical and non-technical people. And bear in mind that the person who decides whether to give your company the job or not may be a non-technical person. So, if you have to use jargon in your writing, you can include footnotes or a glossary to explain the jargon used.