At first glance, you might not think much of the old Montgomery Ward headquarters building in Chicago. But its design holds a powerful lesson. And not just for architects — for anybody.
Why are the corners blocked with massive concrete slabs? Legend has it that the design is an articulation of Ward’s egalitarian culture — no corner offices for anybody.
As often happens, the real story departs a bit from legend. Apparently the corner bracing makes interior columns unnecessary, freeing up much-needed space inside. (Preventing jockeying for corner offices happened to be a nice side benefit.)
But the legend lives on and is repeated often in architectural tours of the city. Probably because it makes a nice story. I don’t know just how collegial the Montgomery Ward culture actually was, but the building stands as a powerful demonstration of “show/don’t tell.” It’s design says more, and says it more credibly, than words alone can do. It’s action, speaking loudly.
Now not everyone can make their point by constructing a 28-story office tower. But you can start replacing mere claims with more action-oriented language. Here are some of the most tired claims businesses frequently trot out and how they can be made more evocative. Which is better?
- We’re responsive OR We return every call within an hour?
- We’re dependable OR We’ve never missed a ship date?
- We’re collegial OR We get our own coffee?
- We’re service-oriented OR We come to you?
- We support work/life balance OR We push you out the door at 5?
- We’re results-oriented OR We don’t get paid until the deal is done?
Show/don’t tell is absolutely one of my favorite lessons from the book. That’s why I come back to it again and again and again. It’s more persuasive, more credible, more clever, and it has the added benefit of not insulting your audience’s intelligence.