This one is for my dad, Bill Higgins. He passed away recently at 92 years of age. I think I could make a real fine blog about organizational momentum depending on energy transfer, and how that is mostly done by excellent communication. But it might take a bit of time to weave it all together. Hopefully when I get done, you will understand the power of words in building lifelong bonds with people and getting people to act. The truth is, it really does not matter what direction you are pointed in if no one has the energy to move. Words leave indelible marks. Make the most of it!
The Irish Way With Words
My father’s mother, my grandmother, was an Irish immigrant from rural west Ireland. From an early age, Dad learned to express ideas in metaphor. Many of those expressions had to do with farm life. The Irish can be so poetic. As a child, I rarely heard, “HURRY UP!” The expectation was measured by “two shakes of a lamb’s tail”. I had never seen a lamb in person, but I “got it”. When I was wasting effort or engaged in some form of redundancy, I was told that I was “carrying coals to Newcastle”. Newcastle was a well-established coal mining town. I think you get it. I could go on and on. My point is my father had a colorful way of speaking, and he did not keep it in the family.
Brought It To Corporate America
When he retired nearly 30 years ago, his co-workers compiled a book of his most memorable sayings, which they entitled, “Higgy-isms: A Survival Kit for Sales Pros”. Nearly 30 years later, my sister received a condolence email from one of his co-workers, who listed his top five “Higgy-isms”. I loved my dad’s way with words. Yet, I was still shocked by the enduring impact they had on others.
Metaphors Can Work. Or Not.
My father was by no means unique in his use of metaphor to crystallize and emphasize ideas. We do it in organizational settings all the time. A good metaphor paints vivid pictures, creates humor in stressful situations, and even creates boundaries and corrective behavior without creating personal animosity. When my dad would suggest that we “turn off the bubble machine”, I was able to do a reality check without the direct insult of being called a dreamer. Primary grade teachers seemed to enjoy telling me that, and it never worked. Words leave indelible marks.
I am not saying that metaphor works in every instance. Some people would rather read a book than a poem. But people usually remember it. In memory of my father, here is a sampling of some things I have heard in my own 36-year work life. I would love to hear from you if you have favorites of your own, or maybe some that just never made sense. Sometimes we learn the hard way that good poets purposely avoid Corporate America. So, we get what we get.
As Corporate America has become more enlightened to hostile work environments, I have heard “charm school” offered frequently as a solution. I like the effort to develop social graces and sensitivity in old school managers. Kudos! The fact that there is a profit enterprise built around the effort should concern all of us – probably more to it than we want to know. Personally, I think the term charm school is a bit of a wink to damaging behaviors. Why not “the dungeon” or something that connotes pain and suffering? I have little if any tolerance for repeat charm school attendance. One and done for me.
“Drop Anchor and Take A Deep Dive”
I love this one for a number of reasons. First, it is a great example of extended metaphor and I love the creativity! I do not know the entire history, but my guess is that the two pieces were developed separately and married later for maximum impact. Bravo! I like the decisiveness of it (takes a lot of work to drop anchor) and the earnestness of the exploration in whatever problem is at hand. I smell salt water when I hear this one, but you might be more of a lake person.
“Swim To Daddy”
This one expresses a certain level of sneakiness that gives me unease, but such a powerful image! The manager wants you to do more than you think you can. If you will just get in the water, good things will happen. So, like a father in the pool with a novice swimmer, the manager just keeps backing up the closer you get. The next thing you know, you have made it across the entire pool! While I have some unease with it, I like the idea that someone believes in me and will be right there if I start to sputter and flounder. Now, I will take this all day long over someone simply “moving the goal posts” on me. Doesn’t that seem just so detached and corporate? Same idea, better poet.
“Put It In The Parking Lot”
Uh oh. Your idea might get legs, but it ain’t happening today! Thanks for the nod, but I want to know who is watching the parking lot. Maybe it gets out of there, maybe it doesn’t. But there is a hopefulness in this one that is more appealing than “taking it offline”. That seems more like the rumble in the parking lot that happens after school – fraught with conflict and possible violence.
Keep It Clean and Tasteful
One other thing that I really loved about my dad was that he was not one bit profane. He did have one admonishment to “put it where the monkey put the nut”, but I never did completely understand where that was. A little to sheepish to ask, I guess. I don’t know about you, but I have heard way too many sexual and racial metaphors over the years. Kimonos, skirts, reservations, you name it. If that’s the best you can do, maybe poetry is just not for you.
I wish had room for more! Just remember, people will remember things you said thirty years from now. Words leave indelible marks. It is up to you to keep it aspirational and inspirational.
Thanks, Bill Higgins, for your wit, charm, and grace. We miss you! I will always smile when I think of you.