Archive for January, 2007

The Fifth Essence

Keith January 19th, 2007

In the first post here, I used the word “quintessential”.  The definition of this word (thanks to one of my favourite reference sources – OneLook Dictionary Search) is “representing the perfect example of a class or quality.”  I have been familiar with the definition of this word, but until I dug a little deeper had never really thought about its etymology. 

The word – quite simply – comes from “fifth essence”.  From Dictionary.com: “(in ancient and mediaeval philosophy) the fifth essence or element, ether, supposed to be the constituent matter of the heavenly bodies, the others being air, fire, earth and water.”  It originated in the fifteenth century in Middle English, from the Mediaeval Latin quīnta essentia – fifth essence.

So to refer to something as quintessential is to infer that it is made of ether – or made of the matter of heavenly bodies?  (Hydrogen undergoing nuclear fusion?  Which heavenly bodies are we talking about here?)  How often are we unaware of where our words come from and what they originally meant?

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The KnowHow Toolkit

Keith January 18th, 2007

As mentioned in the previous post here, my current role is all about making it easy for our business sales people to access the knowledge they need to sell our products, services and solutions.  I lead a small team that is engaged in assisting our product managers and marketers to share this knowledge with sales.  We use a wide range of tools to assist us in this task. 

The team, originally known as “KnowHow”, commenced as part of a specialist sales team in 2000.  I came into the team from my previous role as a telecoms consultant, where I worked as part of the sales force.  Two of my former colleagues had already joined the team.  The rest of the team had a wide range of experience, including sales, marketing, education and media backgrounds.

We put together a kit of knowledge sharing tools.  A major part of this was the document library, called the “iStore”, which continues to be a major activity of the current team.  Over the years we have also used web-based newsletters, a range of e-learning and multimedia tools, audio CDs, and an online quiz.  One of our current tools is a weekly audio and web-conference briefing session.  We record and edit the audio, and make the files available via the iStore for downloading.  As the iStore also includes a subscription service, this is effectively a form of podcasting.

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Telling stories

Keith January 17th, 2007

The original title at the top of this blog was: “It’d take a lot of it to make a man laugh.”  Why?  Of course, there is a story behind it… 

I heard it from my father many years ago, when I was a child, living on a sheep station near the town of Birregurra in western Victoria.  He relayed this story from his boss – Charlie, the property owner - who was a participant.

It was 15 August 1945.  Everyone in the town was celebrating V-J day – victory over Japan, and the end of World War II.  People were driving up and down the main street, making lots of noise.  Most likely a fair amount of alcohol was also being consumed! A man named Mark Ward, in the transport business, was riding on the bonnet of one of his own trucks.  The driver stopped suddenly, catapulting his passenger forward.  As he slid forward, one leg caught on the front bumper of the car, resulting in a very nasty compound fracture.

When visiting him in hospital later, Charlie commented to Mark, “God, it must have hurt!”  Mark replied, “Well, it would take a bloody lot of it to make a man laugh!”  

This has always seemed to me to be a quintessential example of Australian humour.  Our traditional humour is black, self-deprecating and sarcastic.  Maybe this has been shaped by the harshness of our environment or by the convict origin of European Australia just over 200 years ago.  It is a strong part of our culture.  This is a country where our most holy national holiday (ANZAC Day) is a celebration of a famous military defeat (at Gallipoli).

Stories can convey so much information, often in a few words.  In this example, a brief narrative can say so much more about culture than reams of written analysis.

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