Thursday, March 11, 2010

Writing about Doing

GIST Publishing and Multi-Dimensional Press announce the publication of Graymanship: The Management of Organizational Imperfection, by Bob Eddy. See more at the GIST website.

Drew Carey once joked, "Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar." Surveys show that job dissatisfaction and cynicism are at an all-time high. Why have we let our jobs become so toxic? Bob Eddy's book, Graymanship: The Management of Organizational Imperfection delivers a mind-boggling, out-of-the-box approach that shatters common sense concepts about how to manage businesses and employees. Other books, focusing on one-minute leadership and relocating cheese, may contain interesting viewpoints, but they have not succeeded in reversing, or even lessening, the negativity of our work lives. What can we do about miscommunications, incompetence, disorganization, disruption, disobedience, inequity, disloyalty, politics, unethical behavior, conflict, and cynicism? We obviously need a deeper analysis of why we suffer these ills. Graymanship suggests that we take a new and different look at the assumptions we have bought into that keep us prisoners of old paradigms and worldviews. Eddy compares the Realist's black-and-white viewpoint that most of us grew up with to a more balanced Constructivist worldview that embraces shades of gray, shifting our language away from dividing and blaming, and toward more nuanced, results-oriented evaluations. With this new mindset, Eddy proposes 66 concrete actions that managers, employees and organizations can take to restore sanity and enjoyment to our organizational membership. "Graymanship works in the world because it reflects the queasy, hard to pin down, flexible reality we live in." Bill Conner, educational administrator. "It's professional, persuasive, provocative, surprisingly concise, and very, very readable." Dave Kimball, retired CEO.

The book will be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major book sellers.


Brad said...

This is an interesting blog. Can you tell me how one might start integrating General Semantics into their language usage? I have known about GS for a while, and have read Science and Sanity, but many of the points were vague in my mind. I tried to employ the simplification of GS, e-prime, in my writing for a while, but I found that it was too incongruous with the natural flow of my thoughts to be functional when writing articles or quick correspondence. And certainly not easy to incorporate into speech. It's not that I need to use the "is" of identity to get my point across, but that it is just ingrained into my language patterns. I ordered the book, Language in Thought and Action, which I am really excited to read, but I don't know how actionable its ideas will be. Any advice?

It seems like this site would have more exposure.

Nora Miller said...

Hi Brad. I apologize for not noting and approving your comment sooner. I was getting regular spam comments in Chinese around the time you posted, so I apparently missed it.

Thanks for your comments. I share your interests and concerns about how to use GS. Reading whatever you can find will help. I hope by now you have had a chance to read Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action--very useful and readable popularization of the basic theory. Other books to look for:

1. Levels of Knowing and Existence by Harry Weinberg

2. Drive Yourself Sane by Susan Presby Kodish and Bruce Kodish

3. Communication: The Transfer of Meaning by Don Fabun

4. Language Habits in Human Affairs by Irving Lee

5. The Tyranny of Words by Stuart Chase

You can find most of these on the website for the Institute of General Semantics ( That site also has other resources, although they tend to focus their efforts on New York City.

As for E-Prime, that's the topic of a long conversation. I understand the difficulty of learning to use it, but would encourage you to try again, with one big change for your first attempt. Most people will take a sentence like "He is the boss" and try to get rid of the "is" by saying "he holds the position of boss" or something similar. While this technically meets the letter of the E-prime directive, I think it misses the spirit.

To me, E-prime has more to do with reframing your thinking to reveal the who and the what of your point. I actually use an amalgam of E-prime, E-ma (English minus absolutes) and my own concoction, E-map (English minus absolutes and prescriptives--meaning I also try to avoid saying "must" and "should" and the like.)

In the example above, you might mean "that guy runs the business" but you might instead mean "that guy tells the rest of us what to do even though he doesn't own the company". This suggests that your fix will address more than just the presence of the "is". Here's how I have come to use E-prime (which I use whenever I write, although I still don't use it in verbal communications very much):

1. I start by writing what I would say verbally: "Well he is the boss".

2. Then I stop and ask myself what I meant, and what I might have inadvertently obscured by using the "is". Maybe I realize that I actually mean "well, in this situation, he gives the orders and we follow them."

3. If step 2 doesn't immediately solve the problem (as it did in this case) I try to recast the sentence so that the "is" becomes unnecessary. I might say "Well, in his position, he has the authority to set the rules."

4. If I think that the "is" actually appears in the sentence to indicate an ongoing process (ie, "he is talking on the phone right now") I will usually leave it alone. In my view, that use of "is" actually supports the process-oriented view that many things we do occur over time and do not have a clear start and end.

If I don't have enough time for that analysis, I use my original wording without concern. Over time, practicing these steps on anything you write will develop your editing "muscle". You will find it easier and easier to catch and repair or reword.

Such changes may make the sentence longer (although not always!), which some people consider a negative. To me, the results justify the effort. I find that I more often write what I mean, and write it relatively clearly with less ambiguity. I think many people find my writing easy to read, which, to me, shows that a writer can use E-prime without introducing unpleasant awkwardness. And, with time, you can learn to keep more of your modified sentences tidy and succinct too.

Nora Miller said...

Ah, one more book recommendation: Graymanship, of course! While it does not confine itself to GS, it reflects that lifelong application of GS principles to management.

The basic ideas in the book provide great support for an E-prime sort of world view. Rather than rating an employee on some absolute scale with an "is" statement, you look for a scale on which to compare that employee with your goals or your preferred behavior. For example, instead of saying "he is incompetent", you can say "I wish he understood his duties like Joe does".

You can buy Graymanship on Amazon: