Don’t Underestimate the Power of Clarity and Simplicity of Words
Have you ever found yourself drawn to the best-in-class solution with a proven track record and unrivaled management expertise? How about the high-quality product development with a superior customer experience? Or the state-of-the-art disruptive technology with value-add services offered at a competitive price point?
You likely have not because you probably have no idea what any of these offerings are. And if you did, you likely would struggle to find any reason to get excited about the brand.
Clearly, these examples are rife with some of the most over-used, jargony terms marketing and communications language has to offer. Most of us are probably aware of the anti-jargon rules internally and externally, even if we slip into bad habits at times. But the language is problematic for reasons that go far beyond simple word choice to issues of ambiguity and vapidity that can reflect poorly on you and entirely obscure the distinct character of your brand.
Here are some pitfalls to avoid:
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Clarity and Simplicity
The audience needs to understand first and foremost precisely what you do and how you do it. Don’t communicate your offering with industry lingo, hazy descriptors or unnecessarily big words.
Readers, who tend to have little patience for confusing prose, will appreciate understanding you offer “cloud-based browser software” rather than a “technology solution.”
The goal is to inform, not obscure, and complicated ideas should have adequate breathing room.
Wimpy Words Make for Bland Brands
Certain words are simply overused—“unique” being the time-honored frontrunner—and should be avoided entirely. But their clichéd status is only part of the problem; they also are wildly ineffective at communicating any useful information to readers. These “power” words often do nothing more than weaken your message.
Superlatives like “unrivaled” and “unparalleled” are too subjective to prove and are likely untrue anyway. “Superior” is another comparative word that is useless without a defined context. And everyone is “innovative.”
Beyond that, these words rob readers of the chance to draw their own conclusions about a product or service. They “tell” instead of “show” readers what to think as words that assign value instead of offering concrete descriptions using details that evoke clear images. An apple that is “pretty, delicious and better than all other apples” can’t compete with an apple that is “distinguished by its pinkish-red hue and has won the Best Apple Award for three consecutive years.”
Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist and linguist at Harvard University, explains why this is true from a psychological standpoint:
“We are primates, with a third of our brains dedicated to vision, and large swaths devoted to touch, hearing, motion, and space. For us to go from ‘I think I understand’ to ‘I understand,’ we need to see the sights and feel the motions.”
Become a Revolutionizing Disruptor Before You Call Yourself One
Other words such as “revolutionize” or “disrupter” are simply unrealistic characterizations, and often are aspirational terms that reflect a desired state instead of a current one.
That’s not to say no one meets these standards, but unless you’ve really altered your industry’s landscape or redefined a business model à la Airbnb or Uber, better not to give readers the impression you have.
You can still paint a seductive picture of what’s to come and inspire your audience with a vision, just don’t give them reason to doubt your judgment. Overly promotional language can erode your credibility if someone suspects you’ve sensationalized your status, and may wonder what else you’ve exaggerated in your message.
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How to Treat Your Investments Like Private Equity
Treating Your Investments Like Private Equity
Private equity consists of investments in private (non-traded) companies. They are often available through limited partnerships to institutions and high net worth investors. The partnerships require large buy-ins and have significant restrictions. These constraints create a challenge for average investors to participate in private equity investments. But that doesn’t mean we can’t incorporate some of their characteristics to increase our investment returns.
Most investors value both liquidity and real-time information. Both of these are lacking in private equity investments. However, investors can utilize these strategies in their public investments to enhance overall investment return.
Create a Liquidity Constraint
Investments in public companies are mostly liquid. We can buy and sell them at any time. While on the surface, this can be viewed as a positive, the reality is that liquidity may actually cause worse performance. Behavioral economists believe that having some sort of commitment period or locking into an investment for a period of time could be beneficial for our long-term performance. I see two reasons why this may be the case:
1) If we know we can sell an investment at any time, we may not thoroughly consider our buy decision. Most investors buy because they expect some security to go higher; there is seldom conviction behind any purchase. If we were to instill a minimum hold time for each security purchased, we would likely put a lot more thought into why we are buying something to begin with. That exercise alone could help us make better investment decisions.
2) If we can’t get out of an investment, it takes knee-jerk trading decisions out of our hands. It prevents us from acting on emotional impulses. And this could be very beneficial for us. Case in point. Let’s assume we were going to buy a security and wanted to treat it as private equity. We restrict ourselves from selling it for 10 years. We purchase the S&P 500 Index (SPY) on Mar 1, 2008. Because of the financial crisis, just one year later the investment would have lost 34%. Things were looking very bleak. If we could have sold, we probably would have. But our hands were tied. And thank goodness. By the time we could sell on Mar 1 2018, our return would have been 207%, and that is not even accounting for dividends. Most investors have long-term goals, the problem is that we get so focused on short-term outcomes that we don’t allow the long term to occur. Creating a self-imposed liquidity constraint may help.
Don’t Look at Prices
Because investments in private equity are private, prices aren’t readily accessible in the marketplace. So when we invest in private equity, we really don’t have any idea of the value at any given point in time. Together with the liquidity constraint, we just go about our day and hope that when the investment fund matures, it will have increased in value. There is little temptation to abandon or second guess private investments on a daily basis because prices are not known.
The stock market is a constant quotation machine. We can know how we are doing relative to yesterday and that plays with our emotions, and ultimately may influence our decisions. The bottom line is that we, as humans, are influenced by change. It is in our nature. So the best antidote to this, is to simply not look. It is your choice to turn on the financial media and look at your portfolio values. Or you can choose to “set it and forget it.” There have been ample studies showing that the best returns at brokerage firms had something in common – those investors had forgotten about the accounts. They set it and literally forgot about it.
Easier Said Than Done
There may not be an easy way to transform a public equity investments into private ones to protect yourself from yourself. But if your end goal is to make more money, it may be worth your time. I suggest partnering with someone to create and adhere to a durable process. Have some accountability. Just like going to a gym. Some people need a trainer to hold their hand when times are tough and keep them accountable. The same thing can be said in the financial industry.
Remote Employees: To Be Or Not To Be
With research studies attributing positive results to employees working remotely, you may be wondering why you aren’t assigned such a schedule.
You’re not alone with 80 percent to 90 percent of the U.S. workforce saying they would like to telework at least part-time. And forty percent more U.S. employers offered flexible workplace options than they did five years ago. Still, only 7 percent make it available to most of their employees.
These statistics are good news if you plan on generating a case “to be a remote employee.” And yet wherever there is controversy, there is an equally persuasive argument to the “not to be a remote employee” discourse.
Large companies such a Yahoo, Aetna, and Bank of America are eliminating telecommuting positions from their employment rosters. Recently IBM withdrew a considerable number of remote employees from their ranks—not to mention Apple and Google who chose never to be the mix. In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey shows the number of U.S. workers who worked partially or fully from home dropped to 22 percent in 2016.
Research attributes many of the corporate headaches originate from process breakdowns. Yes, people are part of the problem; however, when you drill down, lack of systems is the real culprit. Three reasons companies point to remote position failures:
- Poor policy rollout
- Immaturity of workers
- Restricts collaborative relationships
Let’s address proactive overcoming tactics to shift corporate attitudes:
- Environment Commitment:
- Workspace: Create a designated office in your home to produce a productive environment for yourself. It should be a quiet, interruption-free space.
- Desk-or-not-to-Desk: What is best for you? Some prefer stand-up workspaces; others favor sitting at a regular office desk; while still others aren’t keen on a desk at all. Choose what will have you feeling comfortable and productive.
- Accountability Commitment:
- Production: Initiate dialogue around the expectations your company has of a remote employee with explicit descriptions connected to each. Then, record it, so you, your boss, and human resources have a copy. And update it regularly as assignments are modified or added.
- Accessibility: Managers typically lead through proximity check-ins. It’s your responsibility to stay connected, so your boss never questions your allegiance and contribution. Be proactive too much is never too much!
- Relationship Commitment:
- Success is always about relationships—it’s even more imperative when you’re working remotely. Staying out of the office isn’t entirely an option. How often do you intend to drop-in to be considered emotionally—not merely on paper—a team member?
- Make video conferencing your friend. Building trust and connection with employees is essential to your continued success. It has to be a priority on your calendar. How frequently with whom?
The bottom line is you’re accountable for becoming a boon to your business. And the success process begins as you think through how you, as a remote employee, will benefit your company—not just your lifestyle. Intentionally plan what systems you need to put in place that will lead to advantages for your company as well yourself. And then connect, connect, connect at all levels of the organization to garner a “can’t do without” status.
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