Unprecedented uncertainty. Accelerating change. Megatrends. Paradigm shift. Disruption. Future-proofing. Agility. Scalability. Ecosystems. Empowerment. Passion. Journey. Pivot. Impact. Best-in-class. Highly. Uniquely. Extremely…
Business communication has been mass-commoditized, drowning in jargon and clichés. In a quest for differentiation and attention, investor presentations, corporate purpose statements, and resume cover letters have paradoxically reached perfect standardization. Written eloquence is within the reach of the least skilled professionals, to the delight of performative activists who can conceal their mediocrity.
A single set of ‘key investment highlights’ included in an M&A sell-side information memorandum can be transposed across dozens of companies. Growth compounder. Unique position. Unparalleled capabilities. Operational excellence. Resilient business model. Blue chip customer base. Customer intimacy. Strong management team. Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V, with readers tempted to play [non-sense] bingo.
Business writing has become so formulaic that it resembles coding. Generative artificial intelligence is being blamed for this state of affairs since tools such as Chat GPT make it easy to write sophisticated cover letters or even movie scripts, as recently fought by the Writers Guild of America.
A simple observation of the evolution of business communication over the last decades suggests that Chat GPT is only accelerating a trend that might have existed since writing was invented 5,000 years ago as a technology for collecting, storing, retrieving, and disseminating information.
Today represents the culmination of a competitive process facilitated by techniques made freely accessible by media services. Innovative expressions or newly coined terms used in a corner of the world can be seized by millions and lose their cachet within a few days. Success is short-lived. In economic terms, the excess return generated by creative writing in a business context is almost immediately wiped out. In this state of ‘hypercompetition,’ there is no incentive to innovate any longer.
The ineffectiveness of writing as a communication tool in business has profound economic consequences. Indeed, the quality of investment opportunities can no longer be signalled using this medium. Worse, spin doctors can easily conceal weaknesses. What ensues is capital misallocation.
There is no easy fix. The following communication strategies may be considered on the ‘sell-side:’ avoiding writing what one would not say out loud; restricting hyperboles since they distract and detract; using powerful visuals to convey facts; and favoring live exchanges since audio and video help convey authenticity.
On the ‘buy-side,’ focusing on facts, maintaining a healthy degree of skepticism vis-à-vis the analytical output from large language models, and welcoming live interactions are part of the winning recipe.
Where writing remains a primary mode of communication, remember Hemingway: ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’ Without a personal touch, however imperfect, there is no content worth sharing.