To Thine Own Self Be True: What Tech Writers Can Learn From Shakespeare
By: Alexandra Engrand
MtM Staff Writer
This was just one of the many tips Dan Voss included in his Shakespearean-themed survival guide for technical communication students about to venture into the “corporate jungle.”
What Price Success? An Ethical Roadmap thru the Thorny Thicket of Corporate Politics was an enlightening how-to for young professionals about how to navigate big-company politics.
The presentation was split into three parts: (1) a Shakespearean-inspired survival guide recouched in 21st century parlance, (2) a Vossian addendum to Shakespeare’s insights, and (3) the somewhat cynical but undeniably educational Elephant Theory of Management Sensitivity.
This was taken from Dan’s very first STC conference presentation at the East Tennessee Chapter’s regional Practical Conference on Communication (PCOC) back in 1989. Had Dan not offered this little tidbit, the writer wouldn’t have known; she wasn’t there. J
In Part 1, Dan analyzed Polonius’ advice to his son (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), translating his 16th century principles into modern-day “corporate speak.” For example, “give thy thoughts no tongue” becomes “don’t run your mouth.” And the famous “to thine own self be true” translates to “Stick to your principles. Do what’s right.” Dan transitioned this into a quick look at situational ethics, which, he warned, “are a slippery slope.”
Part 2 was Dan adding his own bits of wisdom, picked up during his 39 years working in the industry.
The final part of Dan’s presentation offered survival advice for new employees interacting with upper management, whom he refers to as “elephants.” In this metaphor, technical communicators are mice. The seven rules for mouse survival in an elephant’s world include:
- Keeping a low profile
- Avoiding contact with elephants wherever possible
- When being attacked by elephants, either hide, run away, divert their attention, or refocus their stomping on another mouse
- Most importantly, never get between two elephants who are crossing tusks.