Saturday, April 09, 2011

Banning the Banal: 5 Phrases #Socent would be better off without

Note: a mini-rant follows.

There are many serious issues facing our planet. This post is not about them. It is, instead, a list of the phrases I would like to see expunged from discussions of social entrepreneurship, impact investing, social metrics and international development.

Definitions of "banal" include: devoid of originality, hackneyed, commonplace, ordinary. In short, of little use. These platitudes are not inspirational, they are insipid. They are not motivational, they are meaningless. Remove them from your speech, your life, even your powerpoint presentations.

1) "Doing well by doing good." Oh please. Get back to work.

2) "Teach a man to fish, rather then giving him fish." Often said in a with an "oh-so-sincere" expression; implies that the speaker knows how to fish, which is usually not the case, or if it is the case, the speaker knows how to fish in his home waters, but not half way around the world.

3) "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." This used to be a cool quote from Margaret Mead, and was often used to end a lecture. But it is now officially overused, and is now usually uttered by a band of committed citizens in one part of the world trying to change another part of the world, without a very clear idea of whether the change is desired by those that live in that other part of the world. George Bernard Shaw's similar quote on "unreasonable men" is also approaching a saturation point.

4) "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Sorry Gandhi, your wonderful quote has been misused so often it might drive you to violence. I have been guilty, but never again.

5) Drum roll for the final banality: "Problems can't be solved with the same level of thinking that created them." Es tu Albert? It doesn't take a genius to know that this overused quote needs to be consigned to "the dustbin of history" (a phrase used by Trotsky, Reagan and Gaddafi!).

There are more, and I invite my bleeps to add their "favorites" to the list in the comments to this post. Maybe even play "Banality Bingo" at your next conference or event.

Don't get me wrong, I like quotes, and use them frequently.* Fortunately, there are lots of good quotes out there that are underutilized. Explore the long tail of great thinkers from all cultures, both to inspire yourself and others.
*Next week, I plan to use "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" in a talk at the Global Health & Innovation Conference. I know that this is a well known quote, but I hope to put a bit of a twist on it, and will post my slides on this blog eventually.


Teju said...

God bless you Paul. I might go crazy if I hear anyone else say "Be the change..."

Soon on this list will be a certain George Bernard Shaw quotation....

Anonymous said...

Guilty as charged! Two of these phrases were (until recently) taped to the wall near my desk. They're tough to live up to. In fact, I let my desire to live up to them get in the way of taking action. Ultimately, that's what it's all about...taking action. In the meantime, "Ask not..." Just kidding!

Bopreneur said...

Hey Wayne.... "Just do it"


Isaac said...

Not a phrase but when people say the "poor" with out any real meaning or connection to real individuals. One generic generalized mass of faceless humanity. I guess that's why I love when Paul Polak say's, "my friends and mentors".

The teach a man to fish and be the change are overused.

bagni said...

c'mon big boi....add the i-word ::))

Al Doerksen said...

Lets rewrite the banal ones to recapture the truth, for example, give a man a fish and he eats for a day; give a man a gun and he eats for a lifetime.

Al Doerksen said...

Lets rewrite them, for example, give a man a fish and he eats for a day, give a man a gun and eats for a lifetime.