When the business secretary Vince Cable yesterday announced his plans to shine ‘a harsh light into the murky world of corporate behaviour,’ the director general of the CBI, Richard Lambert, went on the attack, saying: ‘It’s odd that he thinks it sensible to use such emotional language.’
Cable probably hasn’t replied directly to Lambert, but were he to have done so, he might well have echoed the children’s novelist, Philip Pullman, when he was leading a group of writers to protest at publishers’ plans to badge children’s books according to the age band for which they were deemed appropriate (the plan happily fizzled out).
At a meeting with senior publishing industry figures, Pullman opened with an impassioned warning of the perils of attempting to compartmentalise readership. The leading publisher heard him out, then requested that they keep the emotion out of the discussion and consider things rationally – to which, so the story goes, Pullman responded that he would very much prefer to keep the emotion in, if they didn’t mind, since this was an issue about which a great many people felt very strongly.
Vince Cable provoked Richard Lambert’s displeasure by using simple, unambiguous language to pose questions that many people might want to ask: ‘Why should good companies be destroyed by short-term investors looking for a speculative killing, while their accomplices in the City make fat fees? Why do directors forget their wider duties when a fat cheque is waved before them? Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition where it can.’
This may be rhetoric, depending on your viewpoint, but what is undeniable is that Cable’s choice of words summons images and stirs feelings. Which is where he and Philip Pullman will always have the edge over the dull pedlars of business-speak. They are clever men, both of them, and quite at ease with all things rational, but it’s in their readiness to make room for emotion that they become more than twice as effective as their less inspiring counterparts.
Today we take a group of business people to Andalucia for our annual Dark Angels advanced writing course. Apart from tuning their senses to the sights and sounds and smells of a foreign landscape for five days, we will also use a series of writing exercises to tune up their emotions, because we firmly believe that the best leaders and communicators (and increasingly I wonder if there’s really a difference) are the ones, like Cable and Pullman, who choose to keep the emotion very much in, if you don’t mind.
I prefer the emotion in, much prefer it, to the pretence that it is possible to keep/get it out. It is always there, lurking in the background, never more so than when it is hiding between the letters of the so-called rational words.