Blog

Substance or form?

Published on January 17, 2018

So the Cabinet, and the Tory party, has been re-shuffled which means everything will be better right?

Well it’s a bit new, and the smiles of the appointees always give the impression of a shiny and bright future. And impressions matter don’t they? Until I worked for “Danny” at BDO as an articled clerk in the Eighties, I didn’t really worry about impressions, (away from the dance floor where my white jeans and platform shoes should have done the trick…). I found his sharp suits and BIG tie knot, in the days when we all had big tie knots, irrelevant, away from the dance floor – when it came to presenting accounts all I was interested in was the numbers. Danny persuaded me that while correct numbers are good, well presented numbers are even better. His argument was based on McDonalds (another trend of the time): would you eat it if it wasn’t so nicely pictured above the counter, and presented in a sharp box with fries in a red pouch? I saw his point (it was the red pouch that finally swayed me) and thereafter I always thought about how my work looked. Not everyone is as comfortable with numbers as accountants – one successful entrepreneur refers to the day in the month dealing with financials as “misery day”. So anything that can be done to sugar the pill is likely to be beneficial, to the messenger as well as the recipient.

Nowadays at FD Solutions we have applied science to our methods of presentation, using principles imparted by Jon Moon in his book Clarity and Impact, to aid comprehension. We use words in tables rather than bullet points, and use the sizes and spacing guidelines he imparted to us, so that there is every chance that what we say will be comprehended.

But form is not the only thing that matters. Is McDonalds appealing just because it’s well presented? I think that form matters as much as an hors d’oeuvre – it gives a taste of what’s to come but it’s not the main course, which actually sustains us. The problem arises when we’re offered four or five meals a day i.e. the amount of information that we are offered for consumption exceeds our appetite. We could stick to three meals but we are often tempted to just eat the hors d’oeuvres – all five of them.

Before the internet we didn’t have quite the same level of information overload – we stuck to our chosen sources of information – a newspaper or two, a radio station – and stayed ignorant of the rest. As we sampled the delights of the other sources we may have widened our horizons but have we become better informed? Is the substance of another news channel as good as its appearance?

I think that we are slowly coming to realise that disintermediation is not always helpful – our ability to access news from a plethora of sources without it being curated may not fulfil our need for substantial reliable information. Whatever it looks like, its source is still important: McDonalds have made many changes to their food over the years in recognition of the fact that their sources are more important than their sauces.  And a good FD is usually a good intermediary between you and your numbers – seeing things in your financial information of which you weren’t aware.

Where our politicians are coming from, their core aims and beliefs, are more important than the slogans and fixes that they may cook up during their time in office and good journalists will elicit this, maybe over a three course lunch.