Monday, July 13, 2015

Buffett Buffet

Conversations, social media, blogs and banter don't go through the same rigorous editing as most professional media outlets or corporates. Your Mom likely stops correcting your grammar at some point. Maybe because you have gotten better. Maybe because she has given up. We get to relax, and if we are surrounded by close friends - we can let our guard down. At times we need this. A friend shared a wonderful article about 'holding space' for people when they are going through a tough time. Removing all the editing and looking for the thing that matters. My Dad often reminds me to listen for what people are feeling, not what they are saying. We can do that with friends, not when we are releasing 'professional' articles.

Writing professionally can be death by a thousand cuts/edits. You can go in circles as the meaning of each phrase is debated. Done badly, the voice of the author can be lost. Your voice includes all those little mishaps that give you character. Remove that, remove your style, and you remove the empathy that makes the facts worth listening to. Removing typos doesn't kill the voice though, it stops distraction. Like wearing the appropriate clothes makes what you are saying the topic of conversation rather than what you look like. Two typos that catch me out often are there/their and Buffet/Buffett. When I publish my blog, even after a spell check, and reading through it a few times I often won't see those errors. Having someone else read the blog first would be great. New eyes see our errors since we read what we mean, not what we have written. It also adds friction though. Imagine you had someone who listened to you and then corrected every line. A translator of sorts, even when you were speaking the same language as the person listening. No thanks. I will keep my mistakes (and correct them as soon as someone points them out).

Warren Buffett 'is not an all you can eat food selection' Mike Browne

When you are actually speaking to someone, you have the advantage of body language. You are reading them even as they are listening to you. You can adjust, emphasise, and correct. The way you say something also matters. An early colleague (half) jokingly told me that if you want someone to believe you say something with confidence and to two decimal places. 94.67% of statistics are made up anyway.

A big part of professional writing is fact checking. If you publish something that is wrong, it makes people start to question everything else you say. Teams of number people will go through calculations again and again. A Maker-Checker process where multiple eyes look at the same thing. In real life, most of our conversations are not fact checked. They are based on our experiences and particularly our experiences with enough emotional resonance to become stories. We will tell people if we have been mugged. We will tell people if someone has be racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic or any of those other things that get our blood boiling. We don't really repeat things that were fine. That were nice. That were okay. Facts can get in the way of a good story.

I don't think we would be better off if everything we said in informal settings was fact checked before we said it. I don't fact check guest posts. I put facts I believe in my posts. I am always fact checking myself, but part of the way I do that is by writing blog posts. I hope that the best way to correct errors is to make them in public. The real errors are the ones where I don't know are wrong. The danger is obviously that if the incorrect facts make good stories, they can spread fast. They can inflame. The incentives may not be there for the truth to spread.

That's when perhaps it best to follow my Dad's advice. Listen to what the writer is feeling. Allow a bull quota for the things that get our blood boiling. Then help correct errors and create a better story.
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