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philofriday 22

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” – Wittgenstein and waffle.


Recruiters (and often company directors) like to ask candidates at the end of the interview for a written summary of their understanding of the vacancy, what the challenges are and finally what abilities they have to meet these.

The responses are often of a high quality.  Some approach the exercise a little lightly, whereas others are able to show off all their talents at this moment.

However, we were recently surprised to receive, on two occasions, replies which were thoroughly baffling.  Such a thing is rare, bringing the process to an abrupt end.

The texts were long, the vocabulary complex and the syntax very well structured; so where was the problem?  And then we understood – what we were reading made no sense; it was meaningless waffle.

We have all had the feeling, often during a speech or an interminable presentation in a meeting, to be witnessing a complete lack of substance well hidden behind a mask of style.  On these occasions, to help pass the time, we would like to suggest you think about Ludwig Wittgenstein (Vienna 1889 – Cambridge 1951).

This strange character, after having donated a large part of his enormous inheritance, went to join Bertrand Russell at Cambridge University.  After that he shut himself away for a year in Norway, next to Sognefjord.  It was there that he started to write what would become, in 1921, his magnum opus, and whose influence is still strong today – Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Wittgenstein would summarise his work with a simple formula in the foreword – ‘we can more or less summarise all the meaning of this book in these terms: what we can say at all we can say clearly, and about anything which cannot be said, we must remain silent’.

Which we can reduce further to a simple aphorism – if you have nothing to say, say nothing!


This is true when defending a project, defining a vision, giving instructions, building sales arguments or simply summing up your thoughts.  Are you tempted by complicated words? Are you itching to use convoluted sentences?  Are you getting lost with all your digressing?

Stop right there!  You are about to sabotage your work.  Go back to your original idea – shorten, cut and simplify.

What remains is what must be understood, and this is your objective.

We suggest that the reader whose curiosity has been aroused dive into the particularly arcane Tractatus, almost certainly to arrive at a conclusion which can be best stated as ‘the shoemaker always has the worst shoes’.


Raphaël Reclus, Managing Director Engineering & Manufacturing Morgan Philips Executive Search @RaphRec

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