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Philosophy vs Rhetoric

The former is defined in my long-suffering hardbound Collins dictionary as “the rational investigation of being, knowledge and right conduct” and the latter as “the study of the technique of using language effectively” or alternatively as “speech or discourse that pretends to significance but lacks true meaning”.

The conundrum (“puzzling question or problem”) of which is the more important in communications today, philosophy or rhetoric, is one which I have found myself musing over of late.  Especially this past week, post the UK election results.

As a ‘professional’ communicator (as defined by me as one that earns his living from communications) one ought to assume that rhetoric is the more important.  Some might argue that it is all about rhetoric and indeed my last post would suggest that this is what the PR industry believes, or believed, during the debate. 

However, in today’s social world where most facts are freely available to all online and can be debated in various forums as video clips, eloquent blog prose or 140 character tweets, I am not sure that this is still true.  Clearly, across the whole UK the most significant election campaign appears to have been the Conservative and Unionist one.   However, I doubt that this was simply due to rhetoric.  My own belief is that it's success was due to the importance UK voters placed on philosophy – the campaign was effective because more voters believed the ‘facts’ put across by the Prime Minister.

Clearly in Scotland the situation is different.  The central SNP message that SNP MPs would be a stronger voice for Scots was an incredibly successful campaign rhetorically.  However, this was primarily based upon the ‘fact’ of them being part of the UK government.  It will be fascinating to watch how the SNP campaign for the Scottish Parliamentary elections next year develops, given that the SNP is the government, and whether philosophy increases or reduces the number of SNP MSPs.

 Yours a professional in rhetoric, but fundamental believer in philosophy,

 H

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Integrity

Integrity for many is a key corporate value and the subject of recent blogs by PR industry leaders.  While there is no “i” in team, there are two in integrity. 

Integrity is a very personal attribute and formed a key part of the family background I was born into.  As such, I grew up with a strong sense of honesty and adherence to moral principles.  Whatever I have done, right, wrong or indifferent, I have done on the basis of personal integrity.  To do otherwise tears me up inside and whenever I have been tempted to act without it, I have soon avoided such temptation or been forced to backtrack, with relevant apologies, in order to calm my inner self.

I recall reading about an Ethics debate in PR Week in 2007 and being so disappointed with the outcome that I can still remember it eight years later (click here).  However, until revisiting it online this week, I had forgotten that one of the key debaters against the motion “PR has a duty to tell the truth” was Max Clifford...  The motion was defeated by 138 to 124. 

In today’s digital environment, I think the truth matters more than ever.  Something, that international PR advisor Stuart Bruce highlighted in his blog last week (click here)

I wonder what the result would be if PR week were to re-run their ethics debate today? 

 Yours believing he has a duty to tell the truth,

 H


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Broadening the mind...

In a previous role, I was so often struck by the number of media cuttings that crossed my desk referring to an original story in Prospect magazine, that I subscribed.  A decision I keep renewing, in part because the articles are written by those at the heart of the stories, as opposed to those looking on from the side.  As a result, in this past month my own understanding has increased through the writings of Meg Russell on reform of the House of Lords: “Red benches, grey hair” (click here)  and by the BBC’s David Lyon on Afghanistan: “Afghanistan is not a lost cause” (click here).

I have worked with David in the past and thoroughly enjoyed listening to him as his vast knowledge and experiences throughout Afghanistan came across in his questions to those in charge of military operations and in the conversations we would have before and after such interviews.  Despite the misgivings, it is heartening to think that the blood, sweat and treasure that has been spent over the last decade trying to bring peace to a nation at war for forty years, might yet have a lasting effect.  Equally optimistic, was the article by Thomas Dichter: “Hope in the Middle East” (click here) in which he says: “the reasons for gloom are undeniable, but the reasons for eventual optimism are too easily dismissed.”

This gathering of knowledge is very much at the heart of HPR-International and the way in which we work.  In the world today there are many issues which we might think we are fully aware of and about which we seek to have our opinions understood.  But by seeking to understand a little better, we realise just how much there is still to learn. 

Yours always eager to learn,

H

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Seeking first to understand...

When first starting out in management, I had much to learn.  Coming from a military background where all those around you are highly trained, it is expected that orders are followed.  This is simply what happens in the military: to question orders is against regulations.  However, the system only works because everyone understands the orders and acts on them as expected. 

Outside of the military, life is very different.  For me this proved to be a steep learning curve as I adjusted from being in a highly structured environment to one where I had to make up the rules as we went along.  I was reporting directly to the CEO and part of a senior management team tasked with turning round a thirty year old public body that had lost sight of its customers.  We had a short window to achieve success before the customers lost sight of us and abolished the organisation.

Despite the pressure to act quickly and issue orders to make things happen, I was fortunate to learn not to be too hasty.  Better to understand a situation fully, than to immediately implement a plan to change it prematurely, as I discovered by listening to Dr Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” (click here)

This book is recognised as one of the most influential audiobooks ever recorded, according to Amazon, and was the first non-fiction audiobook to sell more than a million copies.  Habit Five is: “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”. 

I was recently reminded of the wisdom of Dr Covey’s Habit Five when discussing business with a local entrepreneur.  This highly successful businessman had been putting the theory into practice for many years.  Although he had not heard the phrase previously, he instinctively recognised its importance. 

Yours remembering too that, for most of us, we are born with two ears and one mouth, 

H

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March forth...

Starting out on a new venture is always exciting.  But blogging for me is not really new, as I have posted comments online regularly before.  However, this was back in 2001 when I was leading an overland expedition from Scotland to Western Australia: “Perth2Perth”.  In those days, our only feedback was via the number of visitors to the website, which jumped to over 700 when we entered Iran a week after 9/11.

Our expedition aim was “4 Better Understanding”.  Despite the fact that today I am unlikely to be typing my thoughts from the front seat of my (now very rusty) classic Range Rover and uploading them via GSM on my Nokia, my vision is still to promote global understanding. Thus last month saw the launch of HPR International, a new PR & communications consultancy and website, aiming to do just that. 

Last week I flew into Southampton to give the key note presentation to Southampton Solent’s 5th Annual Maritime Conference on behalf of NYK.  My presentation was entitled The Maritime Industry Today – Challenges and Opportunities.

In addressing a packed conference centre of around 200 students, I chose to focus on Technology, Environment and Laws/ Legislations, these being, in my opinion, the most important strategic issues facing the maritime industry today.  I hoped they would also find it easy to remember what I had come the TELL them.  Ironically, one of the technology slides featured a picture of a 3D printer, and yesterday I discovered that pwc have recently published a study (here) into the effects of 3D printing on the transport sector, backing up my comments.

I always enjoy the buzz of presenting, however I find the questions afterwards even more enjoyable.  Since I was answering queries from an intelligent young audience from across the globe, about to embark on their maritime career journeys, I found myself experiencing pre-exam adrenalin as I prepared for the unexpected.  The questions ranged from discussing company core competencies and how long it will be until we see fuel cell marine engines, to how big an effect piracy is having on shipping companies today.

So after a break of fourteen years, I am back typing my thoughts online, but with the benefit of now having the technology for them to be commented upon...

Yours seeing this challenge as a huge opportunity,

H

 

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