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Say Nothing

Business advice no longer comes from just conventional sources these days. Though they have neither an MBA or corporate experience on their CVs, Jesus and Ghenghis Khan (among other notable mavens of commerce) are being offered by gimmick-seeking publishers as posessors of sage business counsel. But I would urge those really anxious for input from the anti-spreadsheet crowd to turn their attention to last week’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter. His advice can be summed up in one word: Silence.

Business advice no longer comes from just conventional sources these days. Though they have neither an MBA or corporate experience on their CVs, Jesus and Ghenghis Khan (among other notable mavens of commerce) are being offered by gimmick-seeking publishers as posessors of sage business counsel.

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But I would urge those really anxious for input from the anti-spreadsheet crowd to turn their attention to last week’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter. His advice can be summed up in one word: Silence.

Pinter’s pauses are legendary. An entire taxonomy of pauses, silences, and moments of freighted intent hanging in pendancy is required to stage his often wordless scripts.

And these silences are what business needs more of. We’re deep in a high-chatter, instant response, fill-the-frequency verbal flood. Meetings are a series of backed up, stacked up mini-speeches.

Of course, the more we talk the less we think. We’re so afraid that someone will get ahead of us that there’s barely a nano-second of silence. We’re afraid of it. We’re amped up and silence is a symbol of indecision or lack of clarity or a lack of forward motion. We’re dangerously ponderless.

Imagine, if you will, a business meeting as a Pinter play. Those sometimes ominoius silences would snap a few key points into resolute focus, the way white space around a wall brings meaning and attention to a painting.

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Silence lets thoughts remain alive and electric in the air, a subject of consideration, rather than being obliterated by a reactive torrent of numbing commentary.

That makes silence both celebratory and damning. It beams attention to smart and wise thinking which would otherwise be missed, while isolating stupidity and cant that would otherwise be forgiven.

Less Mamet and more Pinter would turn meetings from competitive talk fests into sessions where actual insight might be born and progress made. We might actually learn to interpret nuances, textures, and shadings. Who knows, that could be Sweden’s second biggest business gift to America after Ikea.

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About the author

Adam is a brand strategist--he runs Hanft Projects, a NYC-based firm--and is a frequently-published marketing authority and cultural critic. He sits on the Board of Scotts Miracle-Gro, and has consulted for companies that include Microsoft, McKinsey, Fidelity and Match.com, as well as many early and mid-stage digital companies

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