Sunter, Sunter on the veld!
Who’ll be getting all the geld?
(Note for Russians: “veld” is pronounced фелт and is the name for the type of countryside round Johannesburg. And “geld”, which is Afrikaans for “money”, is pronounced хелт)
I am writing a last piece about Mr Clem Sunter (see the two preceding posts) because his peculiar brand of linguistic voodoo is widely credited in otherwise intelligent business circles these days. But, from a language point of view, it seems to me to have a lot in common with astrology, which always gives the impression of saying something while usually saying nothing concrete, like the long-range weather forecast.
If any reader can provide a better summary of this passage than my fair copy at the end, her or she will be invited to the next Glenfiddich tasting. Sunter writes about himself and his partner as follows (for the full document see this link), (the wording analysed is underlined):
In 2007, Clem Sunter’s new book, “Socrates and the Fox: A strategic dialogue”, co-authored with Chantel Ilbury, was released. By its very nature Socratic dialogue transforms the strategic conversation from the normal, dreary type of superficial analysis that companies go through nowadays to a full-blooded, back-to-basics debate. Clem and Chantell (sic) have developed a unique and independently crafted methodology which integrates scenario planning into the mainstream process of strategic planning and decision-making. Their version of the Socratic method has come about through rigorous application, re-evaluation and fine-tuning in the course of facilitating countless sessions with a diverse portfolio of companies throughout the world – from giant multinationals to family-run businesses.
Clem Sunter continues to be one of the country's favourite speakers ... his presentation style is both thought provoking and entertaining.
Taken in order in the text, here are some of the main points:
- How is a five-year old book “new”?
- What “strategic conversation” is being referred to? This sounds like something Tony Blair might have had scripted for him: empty but appealing. However, I want to know: what strategy; what conversation? There is no clue in the whole text.
- Why do companies “nowadays” go through a “normal, dreary type of superficial analysis”? Was their analysis better in the past? Why is superficial analysis normal and dreary? Or does Sunter want to say that normal analysis is dreary and superficial? That’s pretty insulting to analysts other than himself, because:
- The only alternative is said to be a “full-blooded, back-to-basics debate”. This implies that if the analysis is not to be superficial it must be back-to-basics. Why? What is wrong with sophisticated analysis? That is what most of the developed world actually operates by. This sounds to me like saloon bar (or stoep talk) populism, offering easy-to-understand solutions to complex problems for those unsophisticated enough to pay money to hear them said with apparent authority.
- How does “Socratic dialogue” change superficial analysis into back-to-basics debate? Or just transform analysis into debate? Those are two different processes.
- And if Socrates is responsible for the change, why is Mr Sunter claiming credit? Because he applied Socrates? Is he the first to have done so (in 2,500 years)?
- If a method is unique then it must have been crafted independently because anything repeatable is not unique. (see post 5 May)
- Sunter has developed a method rather than a “methodology”, as he claims. That word means “the study of method”, rather as “hydrology” is the study of water or “anthropology” the study of, as it were, the “anthropos”. The word methodology is longer than method and sounds more learned to the unlearned, which is presumably why it is so often misused in this way.
- And does anyone know what is really meant by integrating “scenario planning into the mainstream process of strategic planning”? And what is non-mainstream strategic planning?
- “Has come about” should have been “has been developed” since it was a deliberate not an accidental process (one assumes, as Sunter is claiming credit for it).
- And “rigorous application, re-evaluation and fine-tuning” should not all be applied together in this way. If you apply an approach, you are doing something completely different from, indeed arguably the opposite of, re-evaluating and fine-tuning it, which implies change rather than application which implies no change.
- Also, the way this sentence is written it could be read as giving the impression that Sunter and Ilbury think they have been fine-tuning Socrates. I am sure the great Athenian would be chuffed to know that these two Jo’burgers have taken his thought forward in this unexpected way, but I am not sure if that is what the two “scenario planners” really intended to say.
- Finally, in the last paragraph, it is illuminating that Sunter claims to have a “thought-provoking” “style”. A style can be entertaining, but thought-provoking? It is content that normally provokes thought, not style.
Here is my version of Mr Sunter’s piece:
In 2007, Clem Sunter and Chantel Ilbury published, “Socrates and the Fox: A Strategic Dialogue”. In their book they argue that the Socratic method can be applied to contemporary commercial analysis to make it more profound by grounding it in first principles. Since then, they have developed and refined their particular approach in the course of numerous strategic planning sessions in a wide range of companies, from giant multinationals to family-run businesses.
Clem Sunter continues to be one of the country’s favourite speakers as he combines thought-provoking content with an entertaining style.
I think that “covers all the bases”, as Mr Sunter might put it, and is clearer. It is certainly a lot shorter. Can any reader do better?