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Do they think we are stupid?

Week of 14 Apr 08

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For some reason, a number of communications missives I have seen recently have agglomerated into this week's topic.

There is a billboard near my home, out on the main highway, that says: "Everything you need to sell your house: $595!" Well, if I wanted to sell my house, the only thing I would need is a qualified and motivated buyer. Is that what they are going to drop on my doorstep for $595? I doubt it.

I really like the ads on television about selling gold. The underlying message is "holding cash is bad, give us your cash and we will give you gold." Wait a minute. If holding cash is so bad, why do they want to exchange their gold for my cash?

Recently, I attended a meeting where the keynote speaker was from our industry. This person was basically mocking the Internet and telling us how important print advertising is and how it is growing. I agree it may be growing. I also note that Google's stock hit a high last fall and has yet to recover. But whose stock would you have been better off holding for the last few years--printing & writing paper producers' or Google's? As you know I am a huge cheerleader for our industry, but let's be realistic.

No matter in what forum you are receiving a presentation--your mill's conference room, a fancy hotel conference center in a big city, your company's headquarters--it always pays to step back a minute from the presentation and survey the situation. All speakers are trying to get across a point, their point, and it may be masking the important issues of the day. Often the ability to get to the real issue is what separates executive level individuals from the rest of us huddled masses. While Joe the production manager is telling the yarn about an unscheduled outage, the serious executive gets back on the real issue by asking pointed questions about the root cause of failure and how it will be prevented in the future.

Take graphs and charts, for instance. I have mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating--you have never viewed a graph or chart that was not designed to make the presenter's point. In other words, all graphs and charts are suspect, for what may really be important (to you) is what is not presented. Don't think this is true? Think about the last time you prepared a graph or chart for a meeting. The first thing you did was decide what you wanted to tell and how you wanted to present it. Then and only then did you start to work on preparing it.

I once worked for a bright Ph.D. in a development center of a major pulp and paper company. He had a great rule. If you were presenting a series of graphs on the same subject (say, experimental results with several trials), you were required to use the same scale from graph to graph for the abscissa and ordinate, respectively. It was startling how you could pick out dramatic differences in results when viewed this way. MBA types need to learn the same lesson. I've sat through many a presentation on subjects such as the flow of pulp and paper around the world. The presenters almost always select x and y scales that dramatize their point of view on each individual graph, thus obfuscating any comparisons between them. It is disingenuous to the audience.

So, don't get sucked in by presenters and their subtle ways. And when you are presenting, do the best possible job of delivering the honest truth. In these ways we can advance our business.

Let us hope your management wants straight talk on safety statistics. Some twist and turn these to meet corporate goals. This is a travesty--they are playing with human life here.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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