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Devouring a Strategic Partnership

I need to apologize in advance for the title of this piece. It might lead some to believe they are about to read an insightful business treatise on the reasons that a strategic partnership failed. Or it could be about quickly learning everything there is to know about a strategic partnership. It is not about these topics. It is only about words. I will not be offended at this juncture if you scamper off to the next headline, a cat video or a more politically charged offering.

There are words being used every day that give me great pause. I’m sorry to say these are not curse words, just everyday words used in personal and business worlds. These are words that are giving no one else great pause. Unfortunately for me, I’m funny like that. Why should a couple words bother me enough that I should feel the need to write about it? Before I launch into my distaste for said groupings of letters, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that the users of these words may be equally annoyed by my focus on their words.

I can’t know for certain, but have to believe that if I dislike these words enough to write about it, then somewhere there are people who hang their proverbial hats on these words. There are people who would be unwilling to travel through a day without having these words perched on the back part of their lips ready to take flight at any moment.

Who am I to take their little word birds and crush them like some mean playground fourth grader? Is it right for me to say when I think a word’s usage is acceptable and when it’s not? Kind reader, you will need to hear me out and weigh the facts for yourself. This will be difficult because I feel certain that I will not put forth the facts in a fair and balanced way. I am surely going to deliver this word news in a way which should lead you to agree with me – or at a minimum, find me incredibly annoying and self-righteous.

Let me cut straight to today’s thesis. The word “Devour” pertaining to reading is pretentious and the phrase “Strategic Partnership” – made up of the two words “strategic” and “partnership” is redundant and unnecessary. Let’s also discuss how these words are linked in the personal and business worlds? By the end of this pure fluff piece of storytelling I am hopeful that we will all have learned something. Actually, mostly you.

Devour:

1. to swallow or eat up hungrily, voraciously, or ravenously.

2. to consume destructively, recklessly, or wantonly:

3. to engulf or swallow up.

4. to take in greedily with the senses or intellect:

5. to absorb or engross wholly:

I don’t like the term “Devour” as it pertains to reading, or acquiring information in general. Come to think of it, it’s sort of gross and sordidly implacable under any circumstances. But, unfortunately, this is my problem. I mainly can’t seem to separate its use for reading versus the way a wolf may take in a particular meal.

Now, hear me out dear readers. I realize my kind audience includes those who may rank reading in the top echelon of their extra-curricular activities. Possibly listing hobbies as “hiking, spending time with family and reading” on assorted bios. And as stated so succinctly in number 4 above, it can be used to describe “taking in greedily with the senses or intellect”. Reading would fall under this. But was the process really “greedy”? Was it enjoyable? Once again, it’s just me. I sometimes have problems with things as they are. My guess is that “Devour” did not start out as a descriptive term for reading. Someone at some point took creative license and used it as a descriptive term to double for the intellect. It may have been the cousin of the guy who first talked about “Drinking in the words of the page.”

It’s just a word we say to describe how much we read or our children read. But, unfortunately, the word always pops up in a way that seems to measure intellectual achievements at the high end of the scale. Nobody “devours” The Farmer’s Almanac, Beetle Bailey comic strips or popular children’s picture books. People are always “devouring” the New York Times and “The Classics”.Children may devour the The Hunger Games books. In this instance, it’s usually the parent, not the child, speaking of the “devouring”. Devouring The Hunger Games seems almost bearable and appropriate based on the “Hunger” part of the title.

As a child I could have been described as “devouring” The Three Stooges or Gilligan’s Island, but my parents didn’t think to describe it as that. Besides, only watching after school for a half an hour, five times per week is more like “slow munching”. I slowly munched on every Three Stooges episode until I had seen them all. You see, although “Devour” can mean taking in of information, somewhere along the line the hyper-readers stuck their flag in that word.Well, that’s not exactly accurate. It’s not the Hyper-readers, but more the subset within the Hyper-readers – the “Look How Much I Read” sect.

I once met a woman in a bar who I’m sure used the term “devour” to describe spending all her waking time reading books. As fate would have it, this woman was reading a book in the bar. It was early in the evening and the juke box was not yet plugged in. It was around the changing of the guard time. The afternoon drunks were starting to wrap it up and after work patrons – some to become late night drunks – were just coming in.

The woman – I’ll refer to her as “the woman” – was sitting at the bar and reading a very thick spined book. The book undoubtedly had more of a spine than me. But she wasn’t just reading this book, she was speed reading this book. She had her hand on the page and slid it down at a rapid pace, turning a page every seven to eight seconds. Good Lord, this was an impressive feat. The funny thing was that she wanted everyone to see this impressive feat.

I had a couple beers and was someplace between the afternoon drunks and the after work patrons. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched her deftly turn pages. Finally, while purchasing a new beer, I was standing very near her at the bar watching this conjurer slide her hand across page after page as she “devoured” this book. I could see the remains of words hanging out of the corners of her mouth. What was left of an S poked the side of her lip. The remains of other less discernible letters lay strewn across her eyeball weapons. She knew her talents were being scrutinized but she kept up her feverish reading pace. I got my beer from the kind bartender and before I walked away I had to share something with her.

“You know, you could probably read that a bit faster if your hand wasn’t always in the way,” I contributed.

She looked annoyed and continued to “devour” at record rates.

At that moment, even though she was annoyed with me, I felt that we had a bond or a partnership. And how could I know that years later I would experience much more annoying looks from the very woman that I loved and spent over twenty years with. Looking back, the woman in the bar’s look of annoyance was cute and cuddly.

But it was the fact that I talked to her about her devouring reading abilities – that, I alone, among the drunks in the bar recognized her prowess. This is what created the bond. If we had decided to go into business and take advantage of our specific capabilities – her for reading fast and me for being an ass – we could have formed a partnership. If we wanted it to be a really, really good partnership we could have called it a “Strategic Partnership”.

Our Strategic Partnership would be focused on continuing to let people know the importance of reading, while trying to manage their exuberance and helping them to stay away from using the word “devour” to explain how absolutely, unbelievably much they have read in such an incredibly short period of time.

But I’m afraid our ‘Strategic partnership” would be doomed because I hate to hear businesses talk about forming “strategic partnerships”. Once again, there’s a reason someone might say that, as opposed to talking about forming a regular “partnership”. All the attorneys in the audience will quickly recognize that a partnership is something with legal obligations. So, let’s be clear and call it a “strategic partnership”. Why not? Well, the first thing that pops into my mind is that a company should be able to talk about having a partnership with another company and it should not be implied there are any legal ties between the companies – if there are no legal documents in place.

You see good kind people (and attorneys) I feel that any partnership should be strategic and I can’t get beyond the silliness of calling it a “strategic partnership”. To me, this implies that there is another kind of partnership that you can be involved in. That would be the “non-strategic partnership”. To make it sound different let’s call it the “Crap Ass Partnership” or ”CAP”. This would also assume there are people within an organization that are looking for strategic partnerships and those looking for Crap Ass Partnerships (CAPs).

I’ve been an entrepreneur and business owner for a number of years and, like many, I have had CAPs. I have not searched out CAPs. They have found me. It’s just part of being out there. But if I had called it a “strategic partnership” I think I would have been more let down when the partnership didn’t pan out. So, dear and kind business friends (and attorneys) can we stop using the phrase “strategic partnerships” and just assume that when we explore a new partnership we will do it because it has the potential to be beneficial to both parties – which, seems like a good strategy.

This is a big ask from me to you, so let me be clear – I know that there are partnerships that may be of the parasitic, non-mutual symbiotic type. These partnerships are a strategic one way street. But let’s just assume that our businesses are not forming partnerships with lice, fleas or mites.

Everyone I know is so busy, I would think that just not typing or saying the word “strategic” would be a huge relief – possibly leading to an increase in productivity and ever so slightly measurable dollars added to the bottom line.

I could “devour” more corporate reports if I didn’t have to read the word “strategic” before “partnerships” at every turn AND if I read corporate reports in the first place.

I don’t think either of these words are used out of shear pretension (well, maybe “devour”). I think they are mainly just words that are used by people trying to express something. And since these words have been lurking around for some time, people tend to grab them and plug them in. By my consideration, both words seem to say too much. Devouring a book seems rude and messy and creating a strategic partnership seems overly unnecessary and redundant.

Let’s work together and use “devour” when referring to a vulture having lunch on a rotting carcass and let’s work to imply that a “partnership” is by design of the “strategic” nature. And if, at this point, you believe me to be an annoying, self-righteous person let’s all look to the self proclaimed, hand on the page, speed reader to find the truly annoying person.

 

Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford

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