Johnnie Moore

Dickens and the language of business

Why we shouldn't get too beguiled by "the language of the boardroom"
Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Bringing more colour and emotion to the way we speak about organisations

Transcript of this video:

My friend Mark Bloomfield has posted a video about Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” in which the character of Scrooge is transformed by the visits of the ghosts of Christmas, past, present and Christmas yet to come.

And then he relates this to organisational change and how businesses and organisations need to re-experience their past and re-imagine their future if they’re to make change.

And it made me smile because you don’t normally associate Dickens, whose language is so full of passion and colour, and texture with the world of organizations which often talk in a, you know some sort of desiccated way.

I remember many years ago when I worked in advertising reading articles addressed to people like me telling us that people in marketing needed to “learn to speak the language of the boardroom” as if the language of the boardroom was not like the ordinary language we were using in our everyday lives.

Well, I never really bought into that concept because I think often cultures and organizations appear to talk in a certain way that can sometimes be quite dry but just below the surface there’s an appetite for something more colourful, more real, and more emotional.

Nothing made that clearer than my favorite client from that time, which was an investment bank. So it was a conservative institution in a conservative industry.

On the surface they appeared to want things to be conservative. But actually underneath that they realised that to succeed actually the competitive edge was probably in being a bit more creative. And they always came to me for that.

For example, they once said, “Oh we’re gonna give a presentation to investment analysts.” You can’t get a drier, more business-like, audience than that, you might think. “So we thought we might take them to Arundel Castle (where one of the directors actually had a family connection) and we’ll give ’em dinner and show them the paintings and make some speeches.”

And I said, well that sounds interesting, but what if after the dinner there’s a gigantic crash of thunder and flash of lightning and all the lights go out. And then from behind a mirror appears the ghost of your founder, Robert Fleming, who is absolutely furious with you. “What are you doing?” he asks, “squandering my inheritance on partying with this bunch of freeloaders. What are you up to?”

And then in the course of responding to the ghost, your management actually get to tell the stories you would otherwise be doing in speeches and dull PowerPoints. And they quite readily bought this slightly crazed idea.

I hired a couple of young directors from the Young Vic Theater. I think the cast expanded to three ghosts for some reason and we ended up having a bagpipe marching band as well.

A very fun evening was had everyone was surprised by this presentation. We managed to keep it completely secret. And I always think of that story when I sense an organisation is stuck in a certain kind of language and you might think, oh we have to talk this kind of language to get what we want.

Well, often you actually need to take the risk of presenting something with more colour and feeling and emotion.

Photo by Taha on Unsplash

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