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The Green Sheet Online Edition

January 22, 2024 • Issue 24:01:02

The very point of sale:
Take stock and begin again

By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC.

For many businesses, the month of January is a time to take inventory and prepare for the year ahead. I've worked at companies where everyone pitches in on a Saturday, dividing into teams and moving through the warehouse, counting every item on every shelf. Each team has a foreman and everyone counts everything twice, using pencils and pads and comparing notes. Eventually, after breaking for pizza and arriving at final counts, staffers clock out and go home.

For individuals, taking inventory can be a similar process, beginning with griping about it, then agonizing when things don't match up and finally feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of what it would take to get one's house in order, whether literally or figuratively. And the kicker is, because the process begins at home, there's no way to clock out and leave.

Evaluation framework

The inventory process came to mind when judging a literary contest for an industry trade association. The 20 finalists had been chosen by a panel of industry experts; it was my job to cull the list to first, second and third-place winners.

Choosing the top three from a pool of engaging, gifted writers was far from easy. The first step was to formalize the process, using tried-and-true methods from my stock checking days. When listing submissions by subject and title, I left out author names to stay focused on content rather than contributors and created columns for qualifying criteria. The resulting worksheet provided a framework for judging each entry.

Separating good, great

What qualities separate good writing from the stockpile of mediocre pitches flooding editors' inboxes every day? In a July 25, 2023, post in NOĒMA, titled "What AI Teaches Us About Good Writing," UCLA writer and lecturer Laura Hartenberger wrote that good writing, in addition to being clear, concise and grammatical, has a human factor that AI cannot fully replicate.

"Perhaps the best writing also innovates in form and content; or perhaps it evokes an emotional response in its readers; or maybe it employs virtuosic syntax and sophisticated diction," she wrote. "Perhaps good writing just has an ineffable spark, an aliveness, a know-it-when-you-see-it quality."

With these principles in mind, I created columns for technical and grammatical accuracy, clarity and conciseness, and originality/voice. But I left out know-it-when-you-see-it, figuring that category would take care of itself, since writers, editors and even judges know when harmonized words create a perfect hallelujah.

Separating bot, human

It's not easy to rise above the noise in the payments industry. For every professional vying to win a job, contest, partnership, sale or investment round, or trying to bring a product or service to market, there are thousands of understudies waiting in the wings, ready to take over. Some of these hopefuls, as Hartenberger noted, are not even human. But are they contenders?

"What is the voice of ChatGPT?," she wrote. "When it lacks instructions to imitate a particular voice, it presumably imitates all of us, averaging our voices together into an indistinct default. Conversing with the chatbot feels like encountering someone you recognize but have never met—a voice of the masses, distant yet familiar."

Hartenberger further noted that ChatGPT hardly waxes poetically on chosen topics but rather explains things in a flat, monotone style. Robot narrators make salient points but fail in many cases to make that all-important human connection, which she framed as the essence of writing: a relational act with the power to exchange ideas. As such, writing is the "closest we can get to inhabiting the mind of another human, the closest to escaping our own egos." 

Separating finalist, winner

In a marketplace with no shortage of qualified applicants and specialists, the smallest detail can make the difference between a winner and a runner up. A misspelling or typo, broken link in a published article, or a website that isn't optimized for mobile can disqualify a candidate.

Hiring authorities tasked with choosing a few good candidates from a pool of highly qualified executives with stellar references will occasionally use arbitrary reasons for disqualifying people. Maybe one candidate didn't graduate college or have a post-graduate degree. Maybe another had a completely explainable gap in employment history. This approach may not seem fair but is preferable to putting on a blindfold and throwing a dart. Most people never know why they were passed over for a job, but carefully proofreading work applications and resumes can weed out errors and improve a potential hire's odds. The decision process may be out of reach but contestants can focus on things they can control. Preparing a brief; researching an opportunity; and having some knowledge of a prospective partner, publisher or company's history, background and culture will set them up for success.

Unique, universal, you—the three-u rule

For Hartenberger, writing is a form of heightened consciousness. "I like to say that I'm not teaching my students how to write — I'm teaching them how to think; how to be observant; how to question the systems around them; how to interpret and build meaning; how to relate to others; how to understand and differentiate themselves; how to become agents of change." More than 30 years of submitting articles to publishers has taught me that good content doesn't sell itself. Presentation matters. Clean graphics, accurate copy and concise query emails demonstrate that your story addresses a universal theme in a unique way that could only be told by you.

A unique spin on a universal idea may appeal broadly to a magazine's readers, but what's to stop an editor from assigning your story to a staff writer? Show that editor that you, and only you, have the experience, perspective and skill to tell the tale. To this day, I use these guiding principles when querying new clients and publications.

The best part about the three-u rule? It's transferable. Use it to win an account, answer an ad, apply for a job or entertain friends and family, because your life experience cannot be cloned or duplicated. Write a new chapter in 2024 and let the AIs and algorithms take their best shot; their cheap knockoffs can mimic but never equal your authentic human voice. end of article

Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and founder and CEO at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content strategist. Connect via email dale@dsldirectllc.com, LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/dalelaszig/ and Twitter https://twitter.com/DSLdirect

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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