20140212 Professional books don’t have to be difficult to understand or boring to read.

I’m always amazed by how supposedly clever people feel the need to prove their assumed superiority by excluding the very people they need to communicate with.

Academe is a prime example: if you are not pretentious, writing for other pretentious people, you are not regarded as “academic.” But the whole purpose of academia is to learn and share that knowledge. Instead, it has become exclusionary.

It’s the same with management speak: if you are not using the current jargon, you are regarded as out of touch. It’s balls. Management consultants and training companies push snake oil to a gullible population hungry for success and hoping that an investment in someone else’s words will make it so.

Just look back at the management books of the 1980s: almost all the companies held up as the best run companies are broke or already out of business.

Or only in business because they were so big that they were rescued with taxpayer’s money to avoid political fall-out.

The idea of customer service was pushed and pushed and turned into a pastiche where the customer is now an obstacle to the way the managers want the company to operate.

Writers of professional books are, in theory, writing for those in their own self-selecting group. So law books are impenetrable to the non-lawyer. They are in many cases worse than academic books because they don’t exclude only non-historians, for example, but they exclude the population at large. However, it’s a fine balancing act: I deplore the dumbing down of legal language, the removal of Latin, only to create a new set of words and terms that need explaining anyway.

Look at the UK’s POCA, a masterpiece of incomprehensibility masquerading as “plain English.” It’s proof that using ordinary English words does not mean they make sense.

There is a fundamental difference between “an authorised disclosure” and “a disclosure.” If they are different, why call them the same with only a minor qualifier to distinguish them?

What’s wrong with defining Suspicious Activity Report and using that term instead of “an authorised disclosure?”

And yes, while, in my view, the USA’s legal and regulatory regime relating to money laundering is woefully flawed (and, at last, an OECD report recently agreed with me) the one thing they did get right is to relate to suspicious activity rather than suspicious transactions.

The big advantage of traditional black law and academic books is their biggest disadvantage: they are repositories of wide vocabulary. It’s fun (when I’m not in a hurry) to have to look up a word that is not in common use. The art of the lawyer is to take those things and make them so they can be understood by the particular client he is advising. Clients often do not understand things in the same way as other clients.

An advocate has to communicate within the limitations on the comprehension displayed by juries, magistrates and judges, each placing their own interpretation on the evidence.

This is at the heart of “Understanding Suspicion”which was originally titled “How does that make you feel?”

How do people respond to information and convert that into suspicion? But even though it’s technical, it’s written so non-technical people can understand it.

After all, we deal with a wide range of sciences, from physical, through mental to social, a wide range of laws and regulations, a wide range of moral and legal attitudes. If I adopted the argot of each, readers would find themselves excluded from chunks of the book.

That’s not happening.

I take ordinary concepts and apply them to explain the difficult stuff. And if I can find an excuse for levity (it’s perhaps too much to hope for humour) I’ll include that, too.

There’s a good reason for that: if you are reading an academic study or a black law book, you will fall into tunnel vision. The entire point of my book is to break you out of that tunnel, to help you realise that the factors that make you feel suspicious are all around, not just in a simple list of warning signs.

By changing the way you look at things, you will see more. And, even better, you might have a bit of fun doing it. So the humour makes you pause and think. It breaks up your dash to the next paragraph. The effect is that you absorb more and therefore get more value.

It’s how I present seminars, it’s how I write articles and, much to the chagrin of some directors of large corporations who mistakenly believe they get the whole picture from half a dozen bullet points, it’s how I conduct high-level meetings. You don’t have to be serious all the time. Sometimes, lightening the mood makes the point much more effectively.

Extract from “Understanding Suspicion Financial Crime” – about how we recognise suspicion… “The concept of the vanishing point is taken from physics: it is the point at which two perfectly parallel lines appear to meet, then disappear… It’s not a complicated concept: it’s all to do with perspective – and you’ll remember that from school art classes. Ha! We’ve found the point where art and science collide and it’s called “The Vanishing Point.” How weird is that?”


© 2014 Nigel Morris-Cotterill
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