Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Think Outside the Box Is Not Just a Tired Business Idiom

Have you heard the expression think outside the box? It's a popular American

English business idiom and it means that you should think creatively about something. It also happens to be one of the business idioms I teach in my book "Speak Business English Like an American" (and I note that is now overused so you might not want to use it yourself -- but you will certainly hear it being used).

According to new research covered in a New York Times article "When Truisms are True", it really DOES help your creativity when you think outside the box. Business school professors performed an experiment on 102 students at New York University. They gave them a creative task - the students were told to think of a word that was associated with three other words (example: given the words measure, worm, and video, the students would give the answer tape). Some students were put in a 125-cubic-foot box made of plastic and cardboard to do the task. Others did the task while seated just outside the box. Guess which group performed significantly better? Those sitting OUTSIDE the box. They thought of 20% more creative solutions than the box folks. So thinking outside the box is not just a metaphor -- it can also be taken literally.

What implications does that have for those who work in cubicles? Get out of your box from time to time and do some thinking outside the box!

Two more business idioms proven to have powers by this research team: on the one hand/on the other hand. Are you familiar with this structure? Use it like this: One the one hand, I'd like to take the job in Russia. On the other hand, I'm very comfortable living and working here in the United States." When students were asked to come up with fresh ideas, the students who were told to generate ideas while using both hands (and switching between them) did better. They came up with MORE ideas than those students who only listed there ideas using one hand. Too bad the expressions aren't "On the one finger / on the other finger" - we'd have 8 more appendages to work with in generating creative ideas!

Check out the full New York Times article by clicking here

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chinese Fakes Give Us A Chance to Learn Real English

Copies of Western brands are all over China. Of course, Western companies are upset to be competing with these fake products, also called "knockoffs" and sometimes referred to as "counterfeit." According to a new article in the Wall Street Journal ("Chinese Shoppers Lose Taste for Fakes" by Laurie Burkitt), Chinese consumers are starting to pass up these knockoffs and choose the real thing instead! Even if it means paying a lot more money. Let's read part of this newspaper article and then study some of the expressions in it. Words and expressions we'll study are highlighted in bold below:


Even as foreign companies and the White House pressure China to crack down on fake products, consumers like Liu Wenzhong are showing the nation's growing taste for the real thing.

At a North Face sports-apparel store in one of Beijing's most popular shopping districts, Mr. Liu recently bought a pair of snow boots and a fleece hoodie. At around 700 yuan, or roughly $110, each, they are nearly five times the price of counterfeit versions sold down the street.

"The difference of buying real and fake products is how you feel after," says Mr. Liu, a 36-year-old who runs his own fiber-optic-technology sales business and has a steady income of around 15,000 yuan a month. "I can wear a label I've paid for and feel proud."

While knockoff versions of real products still are widely available around China, Mr. Liu's comments indicate a change in shopper attitudes in a country where black-market purchases once were preferred by shoppers...

The shift has fueled the expansion plans of foreign companies in China. Such retailers as Nike Inc., Columbia Sportswear Co., cosmetics maker Shiseido Co. and North Face parent VF Corp. are opening stores in farther-flung Chinese cities. Many retailers are offering special in-store events and other enticements to get shoppers in their stores. And some have adopted measures, such as special packaging, to differentiate their products from fakes.

"Consumers in China are even more discerning than their counterparts in the Western world," says Aidan O'Meara, president of VF's Asia-Pacific division. "They don't want to be caught dead with a fake product."

Okay, now it's time to study some of the words and expressions from this article:

crack down on - to start enforcing rules more; to restrain. (Yes, we all know that these fake products filling the streets and stores in China are not legal, but in the past, there haven't been huge efforts to crack down on the fakes).

knockoff - a copy; a fake. Sometimes knockoffs are so good, you can't tell them apart from the real thing.

farther-flung - even farther than "far flung" - which means far from the center; in a remote or distant area. Far flung cities would be those not near one of the big capitals. "Farther" is the comparative form of the word "far". Far - farther- farthest.

enticements - things that attract people. In this case, store owners are offering enticements to get people to come into their store -- to lure them in and get them to start shopping.

(to) differentiate - oh, this is such a critical marketing term! This means to make your product or service different from those of your competitors.

don't want to be caught dead with - don't try to understand this idiom word for word! It has nothing to do with being alive or dead. It means something someone absolutely does NOT want. In this case, Chinese consumers do not want to be seen with a fake product (or at least one that others recognize as a fake).

Want to learn more Business English? Check out Speak Better Business English and Make More Money, a new book and CD to help you improve your Business English. There's an entire lesson in that chapter dedicated to knockoffs!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Please Do Not Take A Seat! Stand up and Learn Some English!

The Wall Street Journal just published a great article called "No More Angling for the Best Seat; More Meetings Are Stand-Up Jobs." This article describes the growing practice of stand-up meetings. Apparently, when people aren't sitting down all nice and comfortable, meetings are a lot more efficient. In fact, the meetings are one third less long, with no less quality in decision making. Let's learn some English from a piece of this article (words and business English expressions we'll explore are in bold):

Atomic Object, a Grand Rapids, Michigan software-development firm, holds company meetings first thing in the morning. Employees follow strict rules: Attendance is mandatory, nonwork chitchat is kept to a minimum and, above all, everyone has to stand up.

Atomic Object even frowns upon tables during meetings. "They make it too easy to lean or rest laptops," explains Michael Marsiglia, vice president. At the end of the meetings, which rarely last more than five minutes, employees typically do a quick stretch and then "go on with their day," he says....

The current wave of stand-up meeting is being fueled by the growing use of "Agile," an approach to software development, crystallized in a manifesto published by 17 software professionals in 2001. The method calls for compressing development projects into short pieces. It also involves daily stand-up meetings where participants are supposed to quickly update their peers with three things: What they have done since yesterday's meeting; what they are doing today; and any obstacles that stand in the way of getting work done.

Time to explore the business expressions in this piece of the article:

first thing in the morning - early in the morning, probably right after the employee has turned on his or her computer and grabbed a cup of coffee

chitchat - talk; gossip (social conversations not related to work - clearly this type of talk would not fit into a very short meeting!)

above all - most importantly

(to) frown upon - to discourage; to view something negatively

go on with one's day - continue with one's daily activities or work

fueled by - powered by; motivated by

(to) stand in the way - to block (here they are talking about obstacles standing in the way -- in other words, things that happen that slow down the progress of a project)

Okay, that's our Business English for today. Can you believe I typed all of this SITTING DOWN? I guess I'd better stand up now. Maybe I can go find a stand-up meeting to attend!