David Ogilvy’s 10 Step “How to Write”

From Lists of Note: How to Write [hat tip: Brain Pickings]

On September 7th of 1982, advertising legend David Ogilvy sent an internal memo to all employees of his advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather. The memo was entitled “How to Write,” and consisted of the following list of advice.

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing*. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.


Aspiration, like alienation, is easy to spread

via @anu. This is great

If you think you are an idealist, get off twitter, put down your placard, stop gazing at your navel to examine your privilege. Put your money and time where your mouth is. Go and volunteer in a primary school and sit with those who are struggling to read, go and become a school governor, go and do a bit of training to become an adult advocate so that when one of these kids goes through the judicial system and their parents can’t or won’t participate in the process, you can be called on to speak to and for them. If you can’t do any of those things, work an extra shift or do some baby-sitting to free up a colleague or friend who can. Unlike gesture politics, these acts will make a difference. I’ve seen the difference they can make; I’ve seen the tragically slight difference between the 20th and 21st percentile. It’s the difference between me and my brothers, between prison and college. It’s the difference between the young offender I taught in Cardiff and his cellmates. His daughter, proudly ruffled in a dozen layers of pink lace, was christened with his probationer officer’s and my first names, because as he said, without us, he’d be ‘dead, not a dad’. I was touched by that comment, but I also thought the tragedy was that most boys who started out like him were both not dead and serial dads. His daughter is very lucky, she’ll be brought up with different values to those he grew up with. Aspiration, like alienation is very easy to spread. You just have to get off both your arse and your moral highground to spread it.

from: Rosamicula – most of the kids are alright

Hashtags for Educational Action

hashtags are part of the “conversation,” and serve to make the “conversation” searchable. But I’m tired of conversation and have written on that before. Time to move on…more doing, and less talking.

Why not start using these hashtags to address that? #whatwedid

#whatwedid could be used to describe something actually attempted to improve education. The emphasis on we addresses that attempt to be organizationally-based, and not just a classroom-localized event of a single teacher.

#whathappened could categorize the outcome of that attempt, the consequences of the action…and most importantly,what happened to student learning.

#howweknow could be used when describing how the organization knows #whathappened.

Three years from now will you still be engaged in the same conversations? Right now, think back three years, has your school changed significantly as the result of the conversation? Not you, the school… When will conversation turn to action? When will you share your evidence of that action? Use the hashtags to let everyone know…

link: The Strength of Weak Ties » Words Matter | Hashtag

Two views of strategy

From the Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

“The public often gave credit to Generals because it had seen only the orders and the result: even Foch said (before he commanded troops) that Generals won battles: but no General ever truly thought so. The Syrian campaign of September 1918 was perhaps the most scientifically perfect in English history, one in which force did least and brain most. All the world, and especially those who served them, gave the credit of the victory to Allenby and Bartholomew: but those two would never see it in our light, knowing how their inchoate ideas were discovered in application, and how their men, often not knowing, wrought them.

Puzzles vs Mysteries

Gregory Treverton outlines a nice distinction between puzzles and mysteries in an article called Risks and Riddles

There’s a reason millions of people try to solve crossword puzzles each day. Amid the well-ordered combat between a puzzler’s mind and the blank boxes waiting to be filled, there is satisfaction along with frustration. Even when you can’t find the right answer, you know it exists. Puzzles can be solved; they have answers.

But a mystery offers no such comfort. It poses a question that has no definitive answer because the answer is contingent; it depends on a future interaction of many factors, known and unknown. A mystery cannot be answered; it can only be framed, by identifying the critical factors and applying some sense of how they have interacted in the past and might interact in the future. A mystery is an attempt to define ambiguities.

Puzzles may be more satisfying, but the world increasingly offers us mysteries. Treating them as puzzles is like trying to solve the unsolvable—an impossible challenge. But approaching them as mysteries may make us more comfortable with the uncertainties of our age.

Jim’s comments while MBAs and other similar programs seek to provide people with a basic tool-kit for solving problems, they assume a framework, but

“They offer far less guidance on the far more difficult task of framing issues in ways that can be addressed.”

All good stuff. It reminds me of the apprentice-journeyman-master model. On this puzzle-mystery reading, you could say that:

  • An apprentice is unaware of the puzzles and doesn’t have the tools to solve them
  • A journeyman is aware of the puzzles and has the tools to solve them. But is unaware of the mysteries
  • A master is aware of the puzzles and has the tools to solve them. What sets a master apart though is the awareness of the mysteries and the ability to use that to make your own puzzles.

The world doesn’t increasingly offer us mysteries. It’s probably pedantic, but I’d say instead that more and more people are aware of the mysteries that the world offers, and as a result more and more people are aware, albeit faintly, that the journeymen might not cut the mustard.

The catch is, of course, you normally have to become both apprentice and journeyman before you can make your valuable puzzles from life’s little mysteries.

54 and Needing More

From Wu Ming’s 54 – Vittorio is a moral Italian soldier who has become embroiled in Tito’s young Yugoslavia. His son, whom Vittorio abandoned after the WW2, has finally found him on an idyllic island.

“You have the rocks, the sea, the islands …”
“Well, that’s true,” Vittorio will reply with a half-smile. “But isn’t that exactly what’s wrong? Small pleasures rather than big dreams. A beautiful view, sun and the best ricotta cheese in the world.”
“I was trying to look on the bright side.”
“The bright side? There is one, I’m aware of that. You can live well here, if you want to. But I don;t. I want something else, can’t you see that?”
Pierre will shake his head and turn away in silence, resolving not to put himself in a bad mood. There is no more impregnable fortress than pessimism whatever the cost.
Better to forget the whole thing and hurry down to the beach.”


Tolstoy on conversation, action and theory

From Isaiah Berlin’s wonderful Hedgehog and the Fox:

People were preoccupied by personal interests. Those who went about their ordinary business without feeling heroic emotions or thinking that they were actors upon the well-lighted stage of history were the most useful to their … community, while those who tried to grasp the general course of events and wanted to take part in history … were the most useless… because “nowhere is the commandment not to taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge so clearly written as in the course of history. Only unconscious activity bears fruit, and the individual who plays a part in historical events never understands their significance. If he attempts to understand them, he is struck with sterility.”

Tolstoy’s bitterest taunts, his most corrosive irony, are reserved for those who pose as official specialists in human affairs … these men must be impostors, since no theories can possibly fit the immense variety of possible human behaviour, the vast multiplicity of minute, undiscoverable causes and effects which form that interplay of men and nature which history purports to record.

Decision, Sense and Action

Last Sunday, Phil Wolff asked the question “What’s the link between blogs and action?”. It’s a good, and important question. And the more I think about it, the more I think, in many ways, the answer is “None”.

My knee-jerk answer to the question at the time was that blogs help decisions (in the Japanese sense) not actions. That is, they’re an aid to “sensemaking” – getting an aggregate view of an issue, understanding the landscape, education not training.
Continue reading Decision, Sense and Action

Curing Bystander Apathy: 5 Easy Steps

The Kitty Genovese incident in 1964 is as famous as it is shocking. 38 neighbours stood by as she was raped and murdered – stood by and did nothing, not even call the police. Research has been done to examine why this “bystander apathy” might happen, and reasons such as diffusion of responsibility have been given. What I think is more interesting is that research has also been done that hints at how to cure it.

Kitty Genovese

Continue reading Curing Bystander Apathy: 5 Easy Steps