By Tim Hayes


There’s an episode of “Seinfeld” where Jerry, Elaine and the gang head to the Hamptons to stay with some friends because they “gotta see the baby.”  The problem, though, is that the poor little thing is the ugliest infant they’ve ever seen, but they obviously can’t say that to the parents.  The closest anybody gets to uttering the truth is a visiting pediatrician, who calls the infant “breathtaking.”


As a professional communications consultant to entrepreneurial leaders, sometimes I’ve had to tell people their “baby” – even while deploying “breathtaking” technology or other features – is nonetheless ugly.  Or, at the very least, so mired in jargon and indecipherable, extraneous, irrelevant detail that no one can figure out why their company exists, what their product does, and most important, why anybody should care about or be willing to pay for it.


Achieving simplicity of message can be really complicated.  In business, especially among brilliant minds from the university or research community, the hardest part I’ve found comes in convincing them that no one cares what their logo means, or the intricacies of the interior code built into the software, or that their two vice presidents scored major fellowships. 


I spent three hours one interminable afternoon in a coffee shop listening to a pair of very bright entrepreneurs tell me everything – and I mean every single thing – about their new web-based application for franchise operators.  Normally a decaf drinker, I kept loading up on the highest-octane brew that barista could muster, just to remain focused and attentive.  A full 180 minutes later, I had to ask them to please stop educating me because I needed to get to another client appointment.


In government, the worst offender every year in the ugly baby contest is the annual State of the Union address to Congress.  The President, in fulfilling this Constitutionally mandated update, typically gets more help than is actually helpful as every federal department and agency competes to get a paragraph or more in the speech.  In the end, more often than not, we are treated to a dog’s breakfast of unconnected wishes, chest-beating claims, and manufactured applause lines.


Say, here’s an idea.  Whether in business, politics, entertainment, education, or any other field of endeavor – let’s take our lead from the noble carpenter who advises us to measure twice and cut once.  When communicating, let’s think longer and write shorter.  Let’s whittle ideas down to a shiny sheen of clarity and relevance.  I’d bet the farm we’d get more done in less time, because people would know just what the heck is going on and why the heck it’s so important to them.  For once.


A fellow I once worked for thought if a proposal passed what he called the “plop test” – meaning the document was hefty enough to make a loud plop! when you dropped it on a desk – that made it a good proposal.  Every time he said that, the professional writer inside me cringed.  Plop test?  More like flop test, if you ask me.  Entrepreneurs do make some genuinely breathtaking “babies.”  For heaven’s sake, let’s stop uglying them up.


Copyright 2009 Tim Hayes Consulting