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Don’t give me guff, just say what you *%&!#@$ mean


Don’t give me guff, just say what you *%&!#@$ mean

Over time it will become clear who tried hard and failed honestly, and who were just frickin liars

Mark Barnes

I feel less comfortable in the company of people who use the word “frickin” than I do with those who choose the less socially acceptable, but more robust, honest alternative. We all know what you mean, so why not come out and say it? Words, all of them, are just inventions designed to enable communication. Surely then, the most easily understood, accurate description of the message is the most efficient use of the medium.
Perhaps swearing is, after all, the crutch of the vocabulary cripple, but its coarse substitution isn’t the answer. At some point overly excusing or disguising the real point, with this language of the well-mannered, departs from politeness and borders on deceit. Besides, swearing is more fun.
I was glancing through a corporate announcement last week when it occurred to me how much caution we’ve had to introduce into to what we say in order not to get into trouble with someone, no matter how virtuous the statement or unintentional the offence.The abridged pre-listing statement had, as its primary heading, not an invitation to invest, but instead the standard wording that has been developed over time to protect the issuer (and its oh so many advisers) from getting into hot water. 
It read (and this is the heading, in uppercase, bold) “Not for release, publication or distribution, in whole or in part, in or into any jurisdiction where to do so would constitute a violation of the relevant laws of such jurisdiction or require [issuer] to take any further action.” (I have not quoted the name of the issuer for fear of what fate may befall me from some unknown alien or even known local force.)
The substance of the announcement is there, of course, and, to the experienced (or even interested) reader, it can be found and absorbed in a matter of minutes, thankfully. But the caveats and disclaimers are overwhelming. Again, early in the main body of the statement, you’ll find anything but an offer or invitation – instead you’ll find warnings about risk or incomplete information, and similar protective clothing.
The full body of the official statement was 6,425 words (I asked someone to count them) and the disclaimer (separate, and in addition to the ample cautions in the main body) was 2,349 words, close to a third of the whole damn (oops) thing.I accept that caveats and caution are necessary, particularly when talking money – there are so many scoundrels about. I also see more evidence of the need to paint rosier pictures in order not to upset, or lose the confidence, or worse still, the votes, of the audience – be those shareholders or citizens. I think we underestimate the ability of people to see the truth, no matter how veiled the speech. Everybody knows.
The popular promise is no substitute for the truth
All well and good then, to have appropriate governance and polite, if not patronising, communication, but financial lies and misleading investment proposals should not be pre-catered for by caveats and disclaimers. Instead, the consequence, the punishment, should fit the crime –banishment from society for those shown to have deliberately or selfishly deluded other innocent participants. No fines for insider trading, no fines for market manipulation, just get out and don’t come back. As often as not I’ve seen the most elaborate rules of governance abused to achieve little more than define the compliant, but corrupt, path for the crooks. We can’t create honesty with rules; culture defines acceptability, not process. Doesn’t everyone simply deserve the truth?The popular promise is no substitute for the truth. The consequence of the deferred truth, inevitably found out later, is always higher than the price for reality, immediately it is realised, shared, and accepted. Only when we know how deep the hole really is can we begin to fill it. Only once it is properly filled can we build castles on that solid ground.
Say it as it is. Tell investors what you’ve got and what, in your best assessment, it can deliver, and then set about getting it done to the best of your ability.
Of course not every forecast or plan turns out as we intended or wished it, but, over time, it will become abundantly clear who tried hard and failed honestly, and who were just frickin liars from the outset.

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