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Ducks in a Row: Cost Of A Comma

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017


Yesterday I promised to share how the lack of a common comma lost a lawsuit upon appeal.

A Maine court ruling in a case about overtime pay and dairy delivery didn’t come down to trucks, milk, or money. Instead, it hinged on one missing comma. (…) On March 13, a US court of appeals determined that certain clauses of Maine’s overtime laws are grammatically ambiguous. Because of that lack of clarity, the five drivers have won their lawsuit against Oakhurst, and are eligible for unpaid overtime.

And, as every company knows, overtime is costly.

The comma in question isn’t a true commoner, not with an Oxford University Press pedigree; it is a serial comma and one might even consider it a titled comma.

It was the relationship between the comma and lists that housed the seeds of lawsuit destruction. To clarify,

According to state law, the following types of activities are among those that don’t qualify for overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

There, in the comma-less space between the words “shipment” and “or,” the fate of Kevin O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy was argued.

(…) all the other exempted activities were listed as gerunds, words ending with “-ing”: Canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing. The word “distribution,” they argued, was therefore not intended to be one of the items in the list.

Unlike me, my ESL clients often err on the side of overuse, whereas for years I deleted commas after ‘and’ and ‘or’, but no longer.

Now I consider the actual content and context and, like the court, determine the meaning before using the delete key.

Image credit: allen watkin

Golden Oldies: A Lesson in Capitals

Monday, April 10th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Have you noticed how boring/confusing/annoying/embarrassing/etc. so much content, emails and other written communications are these days?

Or are you happy communicating by text and feel everyone should just forget dumb, outmoded stuff like grammar, capitols, punctuation, and shoving it out the door fast?

If you’re in the latter category I feel sorry for you. I’ve written many times about the value of good writing along with the importance of reading as a basis for it.

I don’t mean polished and professional; I mean the ability to put words together in a way they won’t be misunderstood.

If you think that it really doesn’t matter read the following 2012 post and join me tomorrow to see how a lowly comma cost a company big time.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/scottiet812/3064819572/My client/friend, EMANIO [now Quarrio] CEO KG Charles-Harris, has been a guest poster here; he’s received several hat tips for sending links to information used in various posts and he just racked up another one.

I’ve written before about the importance of details when writing; details like commas, periods and capitals.

But the note KG forwarded drives home the importance of capitals—unforgettably.

Miki, I received this from a friend who is an English Professor and thought you would appreciate it; it’s short and to the point.

In the world of hi-tech gadgetry, I’ve noticed that more and more people who send text messages and emails have long forgotten the art of capital letters.

For those of you who fall into this category, please take note of the following statement: “Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.”

Thanks, KG; graphic word imagery does get the point across, even to teens.

Flickr image credit: ScottieT812

Golden Oldies: It’s All In How You See It

Monday, January 9th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

You hear a lot about “context” these days; mostly people claiming that their comments were taken “out of context” or some variation of that. People are very aware of context, but seem to forget about “perception.”  Context, in or out of, doesn’t really matter; what matters is the perception, whether your own or others. The recent campaign, no matter what side you were on, is a good example of how perception trumps everything.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

There is an ongoing debate in academic, and other, circles as to whether or not humans have free will.

Reading the latest arguments made for an interesting break, but my final reaction was, “Who cares.” However, the manager with whom I was discussing it was thoroughly upset and demanded to know how I could think that. He said that if he had no free will then all his efforts to improve had no value, since the results were predetermined, it didn’t matter what he did. (Hey, we all have bad days.)

When I explained why I thought his reaction was way out in left field, he said I should blog the answer, that it would do other’s a lot of good, so I did.

Primarily, I don’t care because I’ve found that everything is a matter of perception, and that for every person who proclaims TRUTH (in capitals), there is a counter perception held just as vehemently by someone else.

When people seek to improve/change skills, attitudes or whatever, they do so because they perceive a benefit in doing so, whether there actually is one of not is beside the point.

Fortunately, or not, no matter what the perception, one can find like-minded people who share it—the Earth is round, but not to everybody.

Life lasts a certain amount of time and all lives have highs and lows, but it’s the perception of the individual that determines which is which.

In other words, the choice is yours.

Looking to Learn

Monday, July 14th, 2014

How much can you learn from this video beyond the obvious?

The obvious lesson is that texting while driving can get you killed.

But there are more general take-aways that you can use in any business.

  • The unexpected is good way to make a point.
  • Being startled forces people to focus.
  • A negative can be used to drive home a positive.
  • Covert education through entertainment.
  • Pictures are worth a thousand lectures.

What other lessons did you find?

YouTube credit: MadOverAds


If the Shoe Fits: Pitching Familiarity Blindness

Friday, June 13th, 2014

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mYesterday we looked at content problems associated with over-familiarity with your products/services and that same over-familiarity can weaken your investor pitch.

Investors are similar to customers in terms of what they want to know—the difference is viewpoint.

  • Where customers want to know what your product/service will do to solve their problem, investors want to know how many have the problem, in other words, how large is the market.
  • Customers don’t care about your technology/IP; neither do investors other than to be sure that it is unique and protected, i.e., patented or, at least, patent pending.
  • Customers love it when you save them something—money, time, effort—investors love it when you make them something— money.

These days investors are far more focused on “how will you make money,” as opposed to “how will you acquire users.”

This is especially true if you are pitching a web service.

Bottom line; talk tech to the people you hang with, talk money and market to your investors.

Image credit: HikingArtist    

Entrepreneurs: Content Familiarity Blindness

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/findyoursearch/7490295028One of the biggest problems I run into when I work with startups is what I call “familiarity blindness.”

I see it most frequently in the content I am asked to revamp, but also occasionally in the products/services themselves.

Familiarity blindness is the result of being immersed in an idea at its most basic level from conception on and the result is often a version of not seeing the forest for the trees.

Typically, tech entrepreneurs are in love with their tech. They love to talk about it and it often forms the basis for discussion with their peers.

What tech entrepreneurs often have trouble accepting is that most customers don’t care.

That’s why it’s so important to know how your product/service is actually viewed by your market and that means getting out of the incubator or coffee house into the real world and talking to your target audience—not just talking, but really listening to what they say. (See yesterday’s post for help identifying and understanding your value proposition.)

When it comes to content, for your website, ads, articles, etc., “less is definitely more.”

Skip the technology, no matter how cool or groundbreaking, or even what it does, unless you are talking about what it does for your users/customers.

The exceptions are articles and interviews with technical media and even then what it does is usually more important than the technical description of how it does it.

Generally speaking, the only thing your potential users/customers care about is how your product/service will benefit them.

And they want to know quickly and painlessly and to understand with little mental effort on their part required.

Join me tomorrow for a look at familiarity blindness when pitching.

Flickr image credit:

Leadership, Politics and Context

Friday, June 11th, 2010

more-contextYesterday I commented on the fact that leadership is dependent on both context and culture to be effective.

In a review of The Leadership Illusion at Leading Blog Michael McKinney says,

This gets to the heart of the leadership illusion: seeing leaders and leadership in one dimension. We ignore the context. When we evaluate the causes of the success or failure of leaders, we tend to “focus predominantly on the individual (sometimes the context), but very rarely both at the same time. The need to see someone as “fabulously successful or woefully inadequate” is strong. … Leadership is not a solo performance.

The importance of context is especially timely because of the upcoming election.

Consider Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, two in a long list of business executives who will tell you that if they can lead successfully in the corporate world they can lead in government.

For the sake of this article we’ll accept their claim to successful corporate leadership.

Now comes the real question: how transferable is that success in the context of government service?

Whitman is running for the CEO slot in California, AKA governor.

When you are a corporate CEO you need a great vision and Whitman had that, but you also need a management structure that supports that vision and works to make it happen—not just a strong senior staff, but the whole management team.

What it really comes down to is support the CEO’s vision or find a new company.

But there is no such power structure available for a governor dealing with the legislature. The governor has little to no say in who is hired, they aren’t likely to leave if they don’t like the vision; they certainly can’t be laid off or fired, their reviews are only done every four years and not by the executive team.

Given that context how many corporate CEOs would succeed?

For an interesting look at a darker context read Dan Gillmor’s article in Salon.

And if you really want to get depressed take a look at this opinion piece on the “Rise of the Richies.”

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brunoagostinho/3952264896/

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