Monthly Archives: April 2014

Defining Success

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AlexandriaWaterfrontThere are people who want to be successful, and there are people who want to succeed.

Being successful means success in social terms, in terms of status, respect, credential, and self-esteem.

To succeed means success in practical terms, in terms of measurable progress, achievement, evidence, and self-improvement.

People who want to be successful say, “Let’s make this work!” Let’s build a business process out of enthusiasm and a can-do attitude! Let’s build a profitable third quarter out of persistence and cookie-cutter talking points about diversity, team effort, and leadership! Let’s build a ship out of cotton candy and unicorn dreams!

People who want to succeed are not afraid to say, “That isn’t going to work!” Collecting metrics on important but infrequent events will not provide a statistically valid sample size. Training people to improve innate talents they lack will never result in excellent performance. Obsessing about physical diversity while mismanaging intellectual diversity will achieve neither justice nor effectiveness.

People who want to succeed are not afraid to point out bad plans, no matter how frustrated it makes people who want to be successful, because the real world has real consequences and real causality. You can’t cheer yourself to success.

Category: Uncategorized

Formatting Note – Let’s kill Mr. and Ms.

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A lot of progress has been made in shifting professional language toward gender neutrality. We refer to firefighters rather than firemen, press for the acceptance of the singular they1 instead of the clumsy he/she, and employ metonymy to use chair in place of chairman.

One dirty little corner of our communication, however, clings to the often irrelevant nomenclature of gender. When discussing persons without professional titles like Reverend, Doctor, and Senator, we often substitute Mr. and Ms. which signify nothing but the presence of adult genitalia of one of the two standard-issue types.

It’s time to put an end to this, and NewGovOffice suggests two alternative rules of increasing professional rigor:

SOFT RULE: When referencing a person with no professional title, never use Mr. or Ms. with their full name. On first reference simply use the full name and, afterward, either their first name (if informal) or their last name preceded by Mr. or Ms. (if formal). For example:

  • In an address block write “Roberta Xavier” and in salutation “Dear Ms. Xavier,” or “Dear Roberta,” but never “Ms. Roberta Xavier” under any circumstance.
  • In an intro paragraph write “Samir Nouri heads our acquisitions team” and later “Mr. Nouri graduated from Virginia Tech…” or “Samir graduated from Virginia Tech…” but never “Mr. Samir Nouri” under any circumstance.

HARD RULE: When referencing a person with no professional title, simply never use Mr. or Ms. under any circumstance. Use their full name upon first reference and either their first or last name (depending on formality of occasion) on subsequent references. For example:

  • “The new CEO is David Laurens … David comes to our company from the public sector…”
  • “Brenda Hume founded the Hume Trust in 2005 … Hume has since created several charitable organizations in other countries…”


1 Contrary to the gripes of many half-informed grammar traditionalists, using they as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun dates back at least to Elizabethan times. It’s good English.

Category: Communication

“I make my own opportunities” is a denial of opportunities

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We often hear that people should “make their own opportunities” or that some famously successful person brags that she makes her own opportunities. This is entitled nonsense.

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Category: informational