Way back in the seventies, my father* worked in the M&S merchandising department. Apparently they had a rule in management that all communication dispatched to the branches must first be read and understood by a 16-year old.
If a branch received incomprehensible instructions, the chain of command would demand to know whether a teen had first given it the thumbs up.
Fast forward 40 or so years, and I wonder what 16-year olds would make of the sort of internal communications currently being transmitted at the click of a mouse.
‘Brokering outcomes to foster a strategic whole of life approach for end to end system integration’ or ‘Going forward, we will achieve some upside and a paradigm shift when it comes to the language we utilise in the C-suite.’**
No matter how many ways they re-arrange these words, they still won’t find much meaning.
So, although I can’t imagine getting my babysitter (and her Facebook friends) to preview every email I send, it does present some new reasons to get an intern. Plus, one of the intriguing things about our next generation of consumers is that their bulldust detectors are quite finely honed.
My kids are being taught how to critique persuasive writing at primary school. As long as they also learn the finer arts of spelling and grammar, they may one day find steady school holiday work proofing copy in the Writers Australia office.
At Writers, one of our tests for any copy is ‘would your mum understand it?’ This is much more useful than the teenage test when we’re writing about technology, because the average 16-year old probably has an intuitive grasp of mobile phone plans and software instructions and would get their heads around my brief before I could. It’s the baby boomers who need a helping hand.
So while we may despair of Generation-i’s short attention span, the truth is we should write any business communication as though every reader (whether 16 or 66) had, like, so many better things to do than listen to us.
* My father is also prone to making things up. So I take no responsibility for the truth in this. But it sounds plausible enough.
** Yes, these are from real companies (but not M&S) and taken from one of our favourite websites – www.weaselwords.com.au