January 4, 2005



"Hugh, I showed this site to a businessman I thought would be very interested in your ideas. His one and only reaction: 'Obscenity never impresses me.'

"Take it for what it's worth, but my free advice is that as you continue this conversation, you might want to remember that Americans are typically not as receptive to some of the language and sexual stuff you use. I think you are needlessly limiting your audience by seemingly talking to male friends around a bar instead of males and females around a conference table. The former may give you sloppy wet kudos, but the latter has the money." -Rose

Rose, the very thought of being around a conference table makes my eyes glaze over.

Posted by hugh macleod at January 4, 2005 5:15 PM | TrackBack

Thank you.

Posted by: Brett at January 4, 2005 6:01 PM

Hugh, the combination of your non-verbal and verbal responses to this recommendation left me laughing out loud for a full 30 seconds. (That's a long time...try it!)

Author! Author!!

Posted by: Tom Guarriello at January 4, 2005 6:10 PM

Remember what your mum said; swearing is not big or clever.

And always wear clean pants.

Posted by: Barry Dorrans at January 4, 2005 6:19 PM

lol funny. Americans en masse are prurient. Maybe that is why they demand that their enemas are administered as God meant them to be administered: sexually, and by the military.
Your instinct has to be right - there are some business people, some of the them American, who are willing to do a little outside thinking. Some of them are even willing to "take back" the word cunt.

Your 'eyes glazing over' comment still has me smiling.

Posted by: John Dumbrille at January 4, 2005 6:41 PM

I knew you were going to pick up negatively on the conference table metaphor.

Perhaps your glazed-over eyes are blind to the fact that business is still business, like it or not. Of course, you're free to say whatever you want here in your own "home," your blog. I'm just saying that given that you expect people to invite you into *their* "homes," I thought you might want to reconsider the vocabulary of your conversation, just as we all talk to different people in different ways. But I guess your own coversation isn't as flexible and respectful of others as you expect your perspective clients' conversations to be.

Posted by: Rose at January 4, 2005 6:54 PM

This lady sounds like a general manager at some morning zoo radio station that forces some "wacky" female into the mix so the show has the most potential of pleasing everybody. Only the result ends up with it all terribly sucking....well, sucking more than commercial radio usually sucks.

Posted by: jeff at January 4, 2005 7:22 PM

Billy Connolly once stated "Never trust anyone who when left alone in a room with a tea cosy doesn't try it on."

My own feelings are "Never trust anyone who doesn't feel the urge to tell an annoying prick to shut the fuck up now and then."

I wouldn't class "bad language" as obscenities. I could be very obscene using words from just one barney book. Bad language carries a lot of emotional weight to it (not saying it's postive or negative) and is a very efficient way of strenghtening ones passion about something.

Those who are shocked by bad language will probably be too prudish and closed-minded about new ways of thinking. Even if it were all tea and scones and law dee daw words, would they open their minds to the Hugh Train ?

But I suppose Rose is right, profanity is the crutch of the inarticulate motherfucker. :)

Posted by: Damien Mulley at January 4, 2005 7:29 PM

While I appreciate Rose's comments and her understanding that it isn't her blog, my question is how would she have captured that exact feeling with a less graphic phrase? The tone of that phrase can only be painted with those words.

Posted by: Frank at January 4, 2005 7:35 PM

Hugh, I love the information in your blog and your cartoons. Once in a while I discuss some of the really interesting ideas with my wife(no really, you do have some). We have some good discussions and I always tell her that I read it on a website. I never tell her that it was on the gapingvoid.com, because if she did visit the site she would not approve of some of the content.

I also think that once you design something that everyone will approve of, no one will want it. So I applaud that you are doing your own thing. It just seems that it would be such a minor change to clean it up just a little, but I'm not the artist and a minor change to me might not be what you're trying/needing to express.

It appears to me that your starting to go against your "Sex & Cash Theory".

Posted by: Brian at January 4, 2005 7:52 PM

Interesting story:
The other day around a dinner table, the wife of a friend told me about how the other day at the mall some guy in a Mini Cooper zipped in front of her and stole the parking space she was waiting for. Then to add insult to injury he flipped her off and yelled "Fuck You!".

I've told this story to a few people, and I always ask them to pause for a moment to consider what their reaction would have been.

In her case, reaction was to roll down the window and say with honest indignation, "I can't believe you just said the f-word".

Under that onslaught the guy had no other recourse but to sigh angrily and to back up and abandon the parking space.

Being inured to vulgarity myself, I found that to be a fascinating exchange and outcome.

Posted by: Tim at January 4, 2005 8:29 PM

Rose is so full of shit that her eyes must be brown- her Captain Asshole of a "businessman" is too hung up on form to see it for what it is... and for some reason, she thinks his opinion Matters.

Maybe on Madison Avenue. But the kids don't care about that shit, and what they're not spending on SUVs they're making up for in volume.

Posted by: solios at January 4, 2005 8:35 PM

This whole conversation is surreal. But Rose, what on earth would we come here for, if not to get our fix of sarcasm, foul language, snobbery, obvious penis references, and those occasional gems of creative wisdom. Point being, it's his shtick.

Posted by: Aleah at January 4, 2005 8:36 PM

Saying fuck, shit, and cunt a lot can become a habit, so much so that it seems that such words belong in our sentences and lack impact without them. Then we forget not only that some people find such words offensive (which doesn't matter) but also that it's just a boring habit. Try deleting such words now and again and see how a sentence is often improved. Being thought rude or vulgar hardly matters, but making people yawn with boredom at what we ourselves imagine is outrageous or truthful and honest is something we should be alert to. In this, Rose is right, and those who are slagging her off over it just proves the point that vulgarity is frequently the mark of the juvenile.

Posted by: Francisco at January 4, 2005 8:54 PM

I get the impression that people who say "like it or not" are usually not on your side. Kinda reminds me of bible-thumpers who externalize their own hatred of gays by attributing it to God.

That said, there is an art to voluntarily choosing to delete *some* unnecessary curse words in order to leave more impact for the most important ones.

*That* said, you really don't want to give Mr. Old-fashioned Businessman more power over you than he already has.

Posted by: AcouSvnt at January 4, 2005 9:09 PM

Which one of you saying I'm "full of shit" ever uses "the N-word"? If people "finding some words offensive doesn't matter," then why not?

Hugh's blog lectures us about how we are supposed to be talking to our customers, how we need to build relationships and have conversations, and know and respect your customers, but he doesn't care how his own conversation turns a lot of potential clients off?? Where is the integrity in that? Where is the consistency?

If you want this to be a purely personal blog where you can say whatever you fancy whenever you like, then go ahead and keep talking about your penis and your cunts and fuck away for all I care. But if you want it to be taken seriously as somebody I or anybody else should be interested in hiring, then show some professionalism and separate the business stuff away from all the pub talk. Or don't and restrict your client list. I'm not telling you what to do; I just thought enough of the business stuff to give you some honest feedback and point out the consequences you may not have thought of.

Posted by: Rose at January 4, 2005 9:34 PM

The way I look at this is that any "potential customer" who says "Obscenity never impresses me" isn't a potential customer of the Hughtrain.

Hugh, I hate to break it to you, but approximately 50% to maybe even 66% of businesses in the world WILL NEVER BE YOUR CUSTOMER because you choose to drop a c f s bombs.

Anyone who reads this blog and thinks Hugh's talking about this kind of a compromise in the Sex & Cash theory just doesn't get it.

I once worked for a small consulting firm that I thought had a fairly good focus. Then one day, a cartoon appeared above the coffee pot that showed a door that said: "R. Dewlap. The Right Man at the Right Place for the Right Price." They thought it was funny. I polished up my resume and was gone in a few months.

Posted by: Rockster at January 4, 2005 10:09 PM

personally, i'd rather read text containing words like "fuck", "shit", etc. than words like "uniquely positioned", etc.

Posted by: campester at January 4, 2005 10:14 PM

Rose, your argument completely violates everything this site is about. Like it or not, business in the near future is going to resemble the bar a lot more than the conference table.

Posted by: Jonathan at January 4, 2005 10:33 PM

I think Rose's heart was in the right place...trying to help Hugh get a chance at the brass ring. Hugh apparently isn't interested in that particular shade of ring, which Rose seems to think is the only kind one can grab to do "serious business." Rule set mismatch, the way I see it.

Posted by: Tom Guarriello at January 4, 2005 10:41 PM

I think that this is a great way to weed out possible business clients. Who the hell wants to work for someone so uptight?

It's not like Hugh is complaining that he has no money, is getting evicted and his car repo'd. Obviously Hugh must be doing something right to pay the bills. Let him be picky with whom he works. If I were him, I'd do the same. Anyone else who has a holier than thou attitude towards him because of his language can go hire someone else.

If Newton's Principia said "fuck this addition shit" in the margins, would the entire world say it was the work of a madman and was totally wrong? I hope not.

Posted by: Brian Puccio at January 4, 2005 10:55 PM

I weaned myself off the word "fuck" so that I had something in reserve. When their friends swear, my kids don't notice. But when *I* say "fuck", they stop dead in their tracks--I love that : ). I ask them, "If you use these words all the time, where do you go when you REALLY want to evoke some emotion?" I *like* knowing that there are words that still have power to shock, surprise, and (in the right context) delight.

But I could not agree more with the notion that if you try to *please* everyone, you'll *delight* nobody. Better to have fewer supporters--with passion--than neuter your message to make a few more comfortable.

Still... I'm hoping business in the future is more like an unruly cocktail party than a bar.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra at January 4, 2005 11:52 PM

Thanks Hugh, probably first time I smiled I think since the tsunami.

"Hugh's blog lectures us about how we are supposed to be talking to our customers, how we need to build relationships and have conversations, and know and respect your customers, but he doesn't care how his own conversation turns a lot of potential clients off?? - Rose"

The keyword here is "potential" customers. They are NOT his potential customers if this site irks them. In marketing generally you have to be very very careful not to vanilla-ize yourself in order to be marketable to everyone under the sun. We're making assumptions about his perfect customer and target market, but certainly it can't possibly include every single business nor ones that are totally turned off by obscenity. There are already too many consultancies that help you have 'conversations' with customers - marching in lockstep with the pack is never the answer. I once asked a friend that thought he ought to shave his beard for a job interview: "Do you think you'd really want to work there if they wouldn't hire you because of it?" Marketing is a side-effect of who you are authentically. I'm not sure it's wisest for Hugh to "be" someone he's not. "Safe is risky" - Seth Godin

Posted by: Evelyn Rodriguez at January 5, 2005 12:09 AM

Hugh... why the hell are your audience piling onto the person? I would clarify that my reaction to the thought of following that advice has nothing to do with my personal feelings for the person.

It just seems tasteless to let a lynching happen on your own blog and not moderate.

Posted by: Firas at January 5, 2005 1:52 AM

Nevermind, I just skimmed the whole thread again and only a couple comments were like that.

Posted by: Firas at January 5, 2005 1:54 AM

Rose is correct. My own take is that the obscenities on this site are occasionally used to great effect, but more often, not.
And it isn't a matter of personal preference: this blog would be on a "potentially unsafe" list in any company with more than a couple of employees and an active HR department in the US due to the fear of sexual harassment lawsuits from disgruntled ex-employees.

So if Hugh wishes to limit his US clients to companies with one employee, go for it. Otherwise, there's the reality.

Posted by: boo at January 5, 2005 2:44 AM

Useful communications are two way and do not create effects that the recipient cannot easily experience.

Rose captured the essence of what I have been trying to get my wits around for some time. At least she cared enough to comment.

I enjoy Hugh's ribald humor, but I have his blog listed under "diversions", rather than "thought provoking".

His lack of finesse limits the consideration of his ideas by those who might be able to use his services.

In his desire to be "authenticly outrageous", he may have sacrificed his credibility with those who have work to do and need help communicating to an ever changing public.

It's Hugh's blog and he can do what he wants. If he hopes to make the Hughtrain a reality, he should break out of the box he has built for himself.

There is a bigger game to be played, but it will take more understanding and fewer obscenities to make the grade.

I think he has what takes to make the right decisions. He certainly cares enough to help others. Perhaps he can use these comments to forward his own goals.

I hope so.

Posted by: David St Lawrence at January 5, 2005 3:54 AM

One more for this thread...


Apparently Bill Murray and Hugh have something in common.

Posted by: Rockster at January 5, 2005 3:56 AM

Rose is right, you close yourself off to at least 90% of potential clients, but who gives a shit about them anyway. What you care about are the 10% who get it. And part of the 90% who will start to move over in the next 10 years. You have to differentiate yourself, and you've certainly done that.

Rose meet Kevin Lovemark, Kevin meet Rose. You're ideally suited to each other, and you can all have a lovey cuddle on the sofa with your businessman.

And as for David St Lawrence (see 1 comment above) what he says has just confirmed why I deleted him off my RSS feed 3 months ago, for being becoming shit boring, whilst you Hugh have risen up my feed to No 5.

Posted by: Tony Goodson at January 5, 2005 9:34 AM

As the great man himself (Billy Connolly) once pointed out, the received wisdom that swearing is the hallmark of an inadequate vocabulary is a load of fucking bollocks.

You show me the equivalent of "fuck off", and I'll happily use it. And no, it's not "go away".

Posted by: Rob at January 5, 2005 9:51 AM

Billy Conolly really does sum this one up nicely, with the following observation:

"Fuck off, he hinted."

Sometimes when I am sitting in one of those meetings with people coming out with "marketing blah-blah", I do feel that the quality of debate would be improved by asking them to describe it in the style of Billy Connolly.

I actually try and avoid swearing for the most part, because I like to keep it for the times it is needed. However, frankness is a nearly dead commodity in the context of business meetings. Everyone, especially in the Anglo-Saxon business culture uses meetings to do that face time stuff, and work on communicating the outcome of decisions, and letting people feel that they had a hand in it for political reasons.

In reality, and this is where Rose is being I think Naive, the meeting that decided what was going to happen already took place. Like it or not, it was probably in a bar, it was probably all guys, and they were probably all swearing. Shit like Enron and Worldcom might have had a public face that didn't say "boo", but I am sure that the real decisions got made with plenty of direct speech.

OK, here's a thought (flame away folks!) If you can't hear swearing and argument when the business decision is being made, it was already made elsewhere, and you are just watching the window dressing...

Posted by: Hamish at January 5, 2005 11:06 AM

I just spent all day yesterday sitting at a conference table... with an asshole no less.

So ... Thanks Hugh! I needed that laugh!

Posted by: david at January 5, 2005 11:43 AM

5. Ruthlessly avoid working for companies that "don't get it".

Yeah, you may have to turn down a few gigs, and that can really hurt when the rent is due. Still, anything that's easy to get isn't worth having.

Posted by: Thom Lawrence at January 5, 2005 1:46 PM

boo sez: "And it isn't a matter of personal preference: this blog would be on a "potentially unsafe" list in any company with more than a couple of employees and an active HR department in the US due to the fear of sexual harassment lawsuits from disgruntled ex-employees."

There are obviously exceptions to that. I won't waste my whole morning looking things up and writing long lists, but suffice to say South Park is still on television.

I think we as humans have a moral obligation to prevent soulless "verbal discrimination" from swallowing up the remaining 10% of our culture.

Posted by: AcouSvnt at January 5, 2005 4:04 PM

Hamish hits the bull's eye ...

Posted by: Huw at January 5, 2005 5:09 PM

Evelyn Rodriguez up-thread hit it on the head. Some potential customers will be turned off by the language here. I suspect Hugh knows that and doesn't care. Those customers are people he wouldn't be happy working with anyway, in part because they wouldn't understand what he's trying to tell them.

A good free agent often has more potential clients than they can handle effectively. Being able to screen out the bozos -- for whatever definition of bozo you like -- is one of the joys of free agency. It also tends to infuriate those who don't have that freedom. Oh well.

Posted by: Katherine at January 5, 2005 5:39 PM

Hmm, why all the speculation about what "other people" might or might not think? What if we settle for owning our own opinions about swearing or whatever instead of idly projecting them onto the rest of the world.

My opinion: swear all you like Hugh.

Posted by: Johnnie Moore at January 5, 2005 5:49 PM

Oh dear. I swear like a pirate here at my tiki-bar.

It doesn't seem to hurt my wallet any at all. Hmm..

Oh, it just occured to me, that I may have sent Rose here by posting about Gaping Void on the Toontalk message board. Rose, if you don't like the language or atmosphere here, don't let the link hit you on the way out! :)

Posted by: djcoffman at January 5, 2005 6:40 PM

"Perhaps your glazed-over eyes are blind to the fact that business is still business"....

now THAT is obscene.

Posted by: mrG at January 6, 2005 3:19 AM

boo said:

"this blog would be on a "potentially unsafe" list in any company with more than a couple of employees and an active HR department in the US due to the fear of sexual harassment lawsuits from disgruntled ex-employees."

Are you serious? I had the image of a company like the Gap, who make fairly provocative ads and skimpy clothes actually having a sexual harrassment policy that would find a web site like this one offensive:

"I'm sorry but it's fine to do on the public airwaves, but don't leave Hugh's site on your PC at the office."

It's absurd. This is a very surreal thread. Obviously Rose was wrong when she thought the business man would like gapingvoid. You've got to learn to read your clients better, Rose. You got busted!

Posted by: Chris Corrigan at January 6, 2005 4:00 AM

I used to work as a freelance designer in Chicago. I've probably spent time in at least half the tall buildings in the loop. When I first started out, I made an effort to kind of blend in, dress appropriately, tone down my natural foul tongue, etc. Until I got too bored to care anymore whether I was ever asked to come back, at which point i reverted to type.

Oddly, I found that my filthy mouth and all the other visible atributes of a frustrated sculptor trapped in a cubible thinking about gnawing his leg off, deeply endeared me to most clients. They didn't swear any more frequently at work, but they LOVED it that i did. Go figure.

Anyway, now I make sculpture for a living and no longer spend much time in high rise cubicle farms. The jury is still out on whether people want artists to act more like contractors and businessmen, or like raving degenerate freaks, but it seems to be contextual. I can certainly get away with a lot and blame it on my artistic temperament (whatever that is) but at the same time, when I make a good business point or offer someone demonstrably sound financial advice, they like that too. So I play 'em as I see 'em now, which keeps the whole thing more interesting.

last thought: I find swearing to be most useful as punctuation. When you read written text, the punctuation is often helpful in determing the rhythm, meaning, etc. In spoken language, the well-placed expletive can drive a point home quite nicely.

Posted by: john t unger at January 6, 2005 8:46 PM

From up thread: Hugh, I hate to break it to you, but approximately 50% to maybe even 66% of businesses in the world WILL NEVER BE YOUR CUSTOMER because you choose to drop a c f s bombs

Guess what .. it's a big world and 50 % or 66% of businesses in the world will never be Hugh's customers NO MATTER what he does or says, salty, profane, polite, sycophantic or otherwise. If he's hughly successful ;0-) he'll have about 20 or 30 clients ... that only leaves the other 99.7% of the businesses in the world looking for him ... but he'll be too busy with that 0.3%.

Posted by: Jon Husband at January 7, 2005 5:27 AM

Well, if you can't be Hemingway, or even better, Oscar (Wilde), well, then fuck this and fuck that. Ho hum. Like any kinda avante garde, you have to be different to be different. The question isn't whether fuck still shocks (depends on your audience), but what do you replace it with when its worn out.

P.S. If you think sex sells because FUCK means sex, you are really confused.

Posted by: Douglas Philips at January 7, 2005 2:19 PM