Practicing Safe Punditry

December 20, 2006 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Analyst biz | Leave a comment

After being immersed in the blogosphere for a while (reading and recently writing) and the analyst biz since 1998 I’ve become accustomed to pithiness. By pithiness I mean the desire to coin a phrase, be the first to “2.0” something, make a name for yourself by originating a meme. I hadn’t noticed how far this had gone until I watched Henry Kissinger on Charlie Rose yesterday.

Henry Kissinger represents the opposite of this desire. He was very unquotable and unpithy. For example, when talking about sectarian conflict in Iraq, Charlie asked “So, is this a civil war?” A budding pundit (read the Wall St. Journal article on the up-and-coming 2nd tier pundits and their strategies for getting on talk shows – terrible!) would have jumped on that with a clear yes or no and a pat soundbite on why. Mr. Kissinger slowly considers what he will say, then proceeds with a sentence that doesn’t begin with yes or no. I didn’t totally agree, but that’s not my point here. It’s that to me, he wasn’t just being shifty – his explanation was detailed and well reasoned, but more focused on getting the ideas out than the soundbite that will get him quoted or put him in a list of people for/against something. It represents a high degree of self-confidence.  He doesn’t need to make an extreme statement, coin a phrase, or act as spokesman for a popular point of view to feel important and connected. People will continue to listen to him because of what he has to say, not how he says it.

This made me consider where I stand on punditry. As an industry analyst my job involves a certain degree of pithiness. My profession lends itself to stating that “___ is dead” or adding “2.0” to the end of things along with a list of what makes it 2.0-worthy.  But, like Chris Saad stated in Web 3.0 – Are you serious? I’m also tired of the versioning of the web.

But in fair disclosure, I’ve often been guilty of coining my own terms and looking for concise, catchy ways to say things that often clobber some nuance in the process. In my defense, I try to coin terms as a shortcut to understanding rather than to get them picked up by press and vendors (“Enterprise Portal Framework” as an example). And as for the catchy phrases lacking in nuance, it’s an unfortunate fact that most people give you only the proverbial elevator ride to get your point across. And I quickly acknowledge the nuance and counter-arguments immediately after the statement (if they get off the elevator with me). At META Group we were taught to make an extreme statement, then back off 10% to make a point. That way people clearly know where you are coming from, you get their attention, and then you can acknowledge the nuance. Some abused this, going way farther than 10% or even ignoring it.

In any case, if I required the patience from my audience that it takes to listen to Henry Kissinger (I’ve heard Mr. Kissinger speak in person as well and the word “dynamic” would not be the best desciption) I may as well start washing cars for a living. I plan to continue practicing safe punditry by helping my readers quickly grasp what I’m saying and where I’m coming from and acknowledging the clarifications, special cases, and counter-arguments that need to be addressed to the best of my ability.

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