Tag Archives: Words that Work

The Never-Finished Book: Problems with Perpetual In-Progress Revising


One of the most popular books for our CCN on-site presentations last year was The Shallows:  What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr (New York:  Norton, 2010).  In that book, he discusses how the Internet tinkers with the brain, reamps its neural circuitry, and reprograms the memory.  While the mind does not go, it certainly changes, and deep reading and concentration become struggles.

I thought that Carr’s recent essay in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Books That Are Never Done Being Written” (December 31, 2011 – January 1, 2012, p. C3) took these thoughts further.  In the essay that I reproduced in its entirety below, he argues that digital text ushers in an era where constant revision and updating is not only possible, but becoming normal, for better and for worse.

Have you ever thought about what can happen with this kind of access?  Carr says, “School boards will be able to edit textbooks, and dictatorial governments will be able to meddle, too.”  The never-ending story will become a reality.

Editable content strains credibility of sources.  We already pooh-pooh Wikipedia for that reason.  Even though there are controls within its system, they are not great, and people receive laughter when they cite it as a reference in professional and academic circles.  I don’t think it’s entirely bad, but I caution people to use it only to get background information about a topic, and to then use its external source links for additional substantiation and elaboration.

For me, the simple addition of an “afterword” to a subsequent printing suffices.  In fact, that is what you will find when you purchase Carr’s book.  You will find an additional chapter where he provides reactions and updates to his premises from an earlier printing.  The same is true of the famous Words That Work:  It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank Luntz (New York:  Hyperion, 2007).  Between printings, he added a chapter with seven new “words that work.”

The difference between this approach and the massive digital editing approach is that these are author-controlled, and they are also refereed.  Today, anyone can put up an e-Book, and no one has to review or approve its content.  And, if it is open to massive external editing, the author will have lost control.  Whose words are we really reading?  And, how do we know that they are factual and accurate?

This essay by Carr is worth reading and contemplating. Before we just jump into the all-digital era, stop reviewing content for accuracy, cast away professional refereeing, and halt publishing of paper-versions of books, maybe we should all take a deep breath and be sure this is what we want to do.

Technological advances are good, but they are amoral.  It all depends in whose hands the advances land, and how they use them.

Read the essay below.  Then, tell me what you think!  Let’s talk about it really soon!



By Nicholas Carr

Wall Street Journal, December 31, 2011 – January 1, 2012, p. C3


I recently got a glimpse into the future of books. A few months ago, I dug out a handful of old essays I’d written about innovation, combined them into a single document, and uploaded the file to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service. Two days later, my little e-book was on sale at Amazon’s site. The whole process couldn’t have been simpler.

Then I got the urge to tweak a couple of sentences in one of the essays. I made the edits on my computer and sent the revised file back to Amazon. The company quickly swapped out the old version for the new one. I felt a little guilty about changing a book after it had been published, knowing that different readers would see different versions of what appeared to be the same edition. But I also knew that the readers would be oblivious to the alterations.

An e-book, I realized, is far different from an old-fashioned printed one. The words in the latter stay put. In the former, the words can keep changing, at the whim of the author or anyone else with access to the source file. The endless malleability of digital writing promises to overturn a whole lot of our assumptions about publishing.

When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type a half-millennium ago, he also gave us immovable text. Before Gutenberg, books were handwritten by scribes, and no two copies were exactly the same. Scribes weren’t machines; they made mistakes. With the arrival of the letterpress, thousands of identical copies could enter the marketplace simultaneously. The publication of a book, once a nebulous process, became an event.

A new set of literary workers coalesced in publishing houses, collaborating with writers to perfect texts before they went on press. The verb “to finalize” became common in literary circles, expressing the permanence of printed words. Different editions still had textual variations, introduced either intentionally as revisions or inadvertently through sloppy editing or typesetting, but books still came to be viewed, by writer and reader alike, as immutable objects. They were written for posterity.

Beyond giving writers a spur to eloquence, what the historian Elizabeth Eisenstein calls “typographical fixity” served as a cultural preservative. It helped to protect original documents from corruption, providing a more solid foundation for the writing of history. It established a reliable record of knowledge, aiding the spread of science. It accelerated the standardization of everything from language to law. The preservative qualities of printed books, Ms. Eisenstein argues, may be the most important legacy of Gutenberg’s invention.

Once digitized, a page of words loses its fixity. It can change every time it’s refreshed on a screen. A book page turns into something like a Web page, able to be revised endlessly after its initial uploading. There’s no technological constraint on perpetual editing, and the cost of altering digital text is basically zero. As electronic books push paper ones aside, movable type seems fated to be replaced by movable text.

That’s an attractive development in many ways. It makes it easy for writers to correct errors and update facts. Guidebooks will no longer send travelers to restaurants that have closed or to once charming inns that have turned into fleabags. The instructions in manuals will always be accurate. Reference books need never go out of date.

Even literary authors will be tempted to keep their works fresh. Historians and biographers will be able to revise their narratives to account for recent events or newly discovered documents. Polemicists will be able to bolster their arguments with new evidence. Novelists will be able to scrub away the little anachronisms that can make even a recently published story feel dated.

But as is often the case with digitization, the boon carries a bane. The ability to alter the contents of a book will be easy to abuse. School boards may come to exert even greater influence over what students read. They’ll be able to edit textbooks that don’t fit with local biases. Authoritarian governments will be able to tweak books to suit their political interests. And the edits can ripple backward. Because e-readers connect to the Internet, the works they contain can be revised remotely, just as software programs are updated today. Movable text makes a lousy preservative.

Such abuses can be prevented through laws and software protocols. What may be more insidious is the pressure to fiddle with books for commercial reasons. Because e-readers gather enormously detailed information on the way people read, publishers may soon be awash in market research. They’ll know how quickly readers progress through different chapters, when they skip pages, and when they abandon a book.

The promise of stronger sales and profits will make it hard to resist tinkering with a book in response to such signals, adding a few choice words here, trimming a chapter there, maybe giving a key character a quick makeover. What will be lost, or at least diminished, is the sense of a book as a finished and complete object, a self-contained work of art.

Not long before he died, John Updike spoke eloquently of a book’s “edges,” the boundaries that give shape and integrity to a literary work and that for centuries have found their outward expression in the indelibility of printed pages. It’s those edges that give a book its solidity, allowing it to stand up to the vagaries of fashion and the erosions of time. And it’s those edges that seem fated to blur as the words of books go from being stamped permanently on sheets of paper to being rendered temporarily on flickering screens.

Why Frank Luntz Needs To Wash His Mouth Out With Soap

I tried to think of the nicest way to say this – the best way.  The “wash his mouth out with soap” was one such way.  Another might be, “Mr. Luntz, you’re too smart for this, so please just shut your mouth.”

Here is what the wrote – page 271, in his newest book, Win:

“No one trusts the government to get anything right.  So if all you’re doing is complying with minimum standards, they you immediately wrap yourself up in the government’s shroud of ineptitude.  You must go higher.” 

I am offended by this paragraph.  And I call it for what it is – untrue, and petty.

Where shall I start?  I could talk about the past:  how I have driven from Florida to California using the Interstate Highway system, a project that the government got right.  I could talk about the times I have needed something delivered to me, or sent elsewhere, and it showed up, as expected, through the United States Postal Service.  I promise you, they did it at a higher percentage of success than my dry cleaners does in getting my shirts just right.  (And, yes, of course, I know that the post office is in very big financial trouble – but I suspect e-mail, and all of those companies who ask me to go paperless, have something to do with that).

Or, I could take some pretty recent stories:  recently, I have called two different government agencies, seeking information and help in two specific areas.  In each case, a human being talked to me, in a cordial and informative tone, and each sent me requested material which arrived faster than I would have expected – within a couple of days.

I could talk politics – it is tempting.  Mr. Luntz believes the view (he helped shape the view) that is the dominant view of many Republicans:  “we need less government. Government is inept.”  But I think such a view is wrong.

I remember reading about Bill Clinton’s insistence to put a genuine professional in charge of FEMA when he was president.  And, while he was president, FEMA got some pretty high marks in some incredibly difficult circumstances.  President Clinton put a genuine professional in that position, unlike his successor who put a political supporter in the same position.  And that did not turn out so well.

Here’s what I think… We need people who lead government who believe in the validity of what government can do well.

And Mr. Luntz needs to change his words – these did not work for me.

Anyway, I am a fan of Frank Luntz.  I have read his three books, and after Friday, will have presented synopses of all three.  I have recommended them, and will recommend this book.  It is a good book.

But Mr. Luntz, I trust the government to get a lot of things right.  And so should you.  So, please keep your cynicism, your ridicule, to yourself.  The people who work so diligently deserve your appreciation and praise, not your ridicule.

The 15 Universal Attributes Of Winners – Insight From Win by Frank Luntz

In Win:  The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary, the third book I have read and presented (after Friday) by Frank Luntz, we read his “conclusions” at the very beginning of the book.  Here they are:

• The 15 universal attributes of winners (Luntz’s summary of his “conclusions”)…

1)    the ability to grasp the human dimension of every situation
2)    the ability to know what questions to ask and when to ask them
3)    the ability to see what doesn’t yet exist and bring it to life
4)    the ability to see the challenge, and the solution, from every angle
5)    the ability to distinguish the essential from the important
6)    the ability and the drive to do more and do it better
7)    the ability to communicate their vision passionately and persuasively
8)    the ability to move forward when everyone around them is retrenching and or slipping backward
9)    the ability to connect with others spontaneously
10) a curiosity about the unknown
11) a passion for life’s adventures
12) a chemistry with the people they work with and the people they want to influence
13) the willingness to fail and the fortitude to get back up and try again
14) a belief in luck and good fortune, and
15) a love of life itself

The book is a practical overview of the characteristics of those who “win,” and, I think, a valuable book for those who seek success, those who want to move forward.

If you are near the DFW area, come join us this Friday morning for our June First Friday Book Synopsis.  Click here to register.


You can purchase my synopses of his first two books, Words that Work and What Americans Really Want…Really, with audio + handout, from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  I will present his latest book, Win, this Friday, and the synopsis will be available on the site in a couple of weeks.

Tried and True Counsel for your Next Presentation — Sometimes the Old Advice is Still the Best

I was talking to a brilliant woman this morning.  She is a legend (in the very best sense of that word) in the Real Estate business in the Dallas area.  She has more energy than any 10 of us (we met at 7:30; if you know anything about the “typical” real estate person, early mornings are frequently not their favorite time).

As we talked about what real estate professionals need to do their job better, I realized, again, the wisdom of an old piece of advice.  It has to do with any presentation, almost any conversation, in which there is a message you want to get across.  This applies to a leader and his/her meetings with the people to be led.  This has to do with a presentation to a potential client, such as when a real estate agent goes to that all important “listing appointment,” in order to have the privilege of selling the house.  This has to do with most business conversations.

Here is the advice:

• Tell them what you are going to tell them.
• Then, tell them what you are telling them.
• Then, tell them what you told them.

This is so old, so “commonly known,” that we think we follow this advice.  But, most of the time, we do not.  And because we do not, we think we have communicated clearly – and we have not.

Here are some key reminders – start your conversation/presentation (in a speech, this comes immediately after your “hook/attention getter”) with a clear “this is what I have to say” summary of what is coming next.

Then, you deliver that content.

And then, at the end, you remind your audience, whether an audience of one, or an audience much larger, “this is what I have just said.”

Be redundant… Use repetition.  Make it clear, concise, understandable.  Using Guy Kawasaki’s term, give out “swallowable” pieces of information.

So, yes, as you read and learn and seek to get better at communication – as you learn those words that work, and learn to tell compelling stories; as you seek to be current, contemporary, relevant — never forget to tell them what you are going to tell them; and then, tell them; and then, tell them what you told them.

After all, you never want a presentation to end with these thoughts in the mind of your audience – “I never could quite figure out what he/she was saying…”

Words that Don’t Work, like… When I go to my “Doctor,” I am a “Patient,” not a “Health Care Consumer”

I intentionally keep politics out of my posts on this blog as much as possible.  It is becoming difficult – politics permeates every facet of life these days.  But this one was too important to ignore.  It comes from Paul Krugman’s New York Times column earler this week, Patients Are Not Consumers.  Here’s the key excerpt:

But something else struck me as I looked at Republican arguments against the board, which hinge on the notion that what we really need to do, as the House budget proposal put it, is to “make government health care programs more responsive to consumer choice.”

Here’s my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough.

What has gone wrong with us?

First, the obvious:  I do not want to think of myself as a “consumer” of health care, I want to think of myself as a “patient” going to see my “doctor.”   And, yes, I do have “my doctor,” not my health care provider.” 

We have known for a very long time that the labels, the names, we use, shape so much more than just our vocabulary.  The words we use shape our understanding in every part of life, even create reality.  And I think Frank Luntz is onto something with his idea that there are words that work – but, there are also words that don’t work.  And we need to reject those words, jettison them from our vocabulary, and stand strong against them as they creep in all around us — which I try to do in my own conversations and presentations.

“Consumer” should never replace “patient” when it comes to me and my “doctor.”  This is just one example of a word we should jettison.  There are a few other words that don’t work for me:  like “faith community,” instead of “church, synagogue/temple, mosque.”  I do not attend my “faith community,” I go to “church.”  In fact, I go to church at the First Methodist Church, not the First Methodist Faith Community.

In Words That Work:  It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, Frank Luntz wrote: 

Words that work, whether fiction or reality, not only explain but also motivate.  They cause you to think as well as act.  They trigger emotion as well as understanding. 

In the book, he quotes Winston Churchill:

“Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”  

I agree with this.  And “doctor” is shorter and better than “health care provider,” and “church” is better than “faith community.”

Famed rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke put it this way:

“… language does our thinking for us.  Language choices not only reflect individual disposition but influence the course of policy as well…  Because the terms we use to describe the world determine the ways we see it, those who control the language control the argument, and those who control the argument are more likely to successfully translate belief into policy.”  (quoted by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman).

I suspect you’ve got your own list of words that don’t work.  And I suspect, if we put our minds to it, we could come up with quite a few words that don’t work; words that simply are not working for us.

And let’s start here — let’s remind those making decisions in Washington that we are not “consumers” of “health care providers,” we are “patients” going to see our “doctors.”

Here’s a Suggested Reading List for Leadership Development (for 2011) – Now, with Update

Let me help you plan your reading for 2011.

The issue is… Leadership Development.

Look at those words.  Think about them.  They say a lot.  Mainly they say this – leaders have to be developed, and leaders have to focus on, and work on, continual development.  This does not happen by accident.  Some leaders may be “born,” but most leaders are “developed.”

And one practice of ever-developing leaders is that they read.  They read books for the purpose of personal development.

I thought about all of this after a great conversation over breakfast with my blogging colleague, Bob Morris.  We talked about a lot.  We share a love of reading, we share a deep appreciation of good authors and good books, so we are probably a little “biased” in our view of leadership development.  But I think the evidence is on our side – leadership development does not happen by accident, and reading good books is a critical and time-tested path to leadership development.

So – assume that you are leader, and that you want to work on leadership development.  What should you read?  I’ve got a suggested list.  If Bob, or my First Friday Book Synopsis colleague Karl Krayer were to suggest a list, it would be a different list.  These are mostly books that I have read.  It is my list of “areas of focus.”  Some of these books are not new.  But they are all worth reading, and if you want to get serious about leadership development, I think this is a pretty good list to start with.

Of course, there are other areas of focus that need/deserve/beg for attention — and other truly deserving book titles.  This list is only a beginning…

So – here it is – my suggested reading list for leadership development.  It includes seven areas of focus, with a total of eleven books.  That is one book a month for 2011 (giving you either July or December “off”).  Whether you choose these titles or not; whether you choose these areas of focus, or not; this I recommend:  follow a leadership development plan.  It is worth the investment of time!

As you focus on: A good book to read is:
The Right Values True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership (J-B Warren Bennis Series) by Bill George and Peter Sims
The Right Strategy The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm by Verne Harnish
Effective Leadership (note:  this was a tough “focus” for which to choose the “best” book(s).  I absolutely would include this Kouzes and Posner book:  it is practical, and extraordinarily valuable). 

Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today by Susan Scott
Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Effective Communication Words that Work by Frank Luntz
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Functional, Effective Teamwork 


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
Cultivating Creativity and Innovation The Creative Habit:  Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
Successful Execution Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

I hope you succeed at your attempts at leadership development in 2011.

Note:  this is not my first attempt to suggest a reading list.  Earlier, I posted this:  Build Your Own Strategic Reading Plan — or, How Should You Pick Which Business Book(s) to Read? It has other suggestions, for other areas of focus.

So many books…so little time!


Here are three ways we can help with your leadership development efforts:

#1:  You can bring me, or my colleague Karl Krayer, into your organization to present synopses of these, and many other books.  These synopses provide the key content, and facilitated discussion of the implications.  Contact me at .
#2:  You can purchase our 15 minute version of these synopses, with audio + handout, from our companion web site at 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  (Most of these were presented live at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  Be sure to read the faqs).
#3:  Our blogging colleague Bob Morris is an accomplished business consultant, and can help your organization tackle these (and other) issues in an extended way.  Contact Bob directly at .


Update:  My blogging colleague Bob Morris, added some worthy volumes to this list.  Check out his expanded list by clicking here.

Here’s his expanded list:

The Right Values
True North by Bill George and Peter Sims

The Executive’s Compass by James O’Toole
The Highest Goal by Michael Ray
The Heart Aroused by David Whyte

The Right Strategy
The Opposable Mind by Roger L. Martin
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish

The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Unstoppable by Chris Zook
Enterprise Architecture as Strategy by Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson

Effective Leadership
Fierce Leadership by Susan Scott
Encouraging the Heart by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Maestro by Roger Nierenberg
True North by Bill George and Peter Sims

Effective Communication
Words that Work by Frank Luntz
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Influence by Robert Cialdini
The Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin by Dan Roam
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Functional & Effective Teamwork
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman
Collaboration by Morten Hansen
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Cultivating Creativity and Innovation
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

Freedom, Inc. by Brian M. Carney and Isaac Getz
The Idea of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation by Thomas Kelley
Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton

Successful Execution
Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki
The Other Side of Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble
Open Innovation and Open Business Models by Henry Chesbrough

Plus two additional categories:

Leadership Development

Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice co-edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana
The Talent Masters by Bill Conaty and Ram Charan
The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development co-edited by Ellen Van Velsor, Cynthia D. McCauley, and Marian N. Ruderman
Extraordinary Leadership co-edited by Kerry Bunker, Douglas T. Hall, and Kathy E. Kram

Employee Engagement & Talent Management

A Sense of Urgency and Buy-In by John Kotter
The Art of Engagement by Jim Haudan
Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees by Lee J. Colan
Growing Great Employees by Erika Andersen