Weekly Thoughts

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Boat McBoatface v2

Trying to be more punny

Back in 2016, we wrote about the “Boaty McBoatface” saga where the U.K. National Environmental Research Council ran a public poll to name a $287 million polar research ship.  The internet decided to discard serious names like Shackleton, Falcon, or Endeavor in favor of R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface.  It turns out the NERC is not as light-hearted as the internet.  They overrode the poll and named the ship the very serious R.R.S. Sir David Attenborough.  We noted at the time that the Boaty McBoatface situation is not abnormal, as outlined by the New York Times:

“Remember when Slovak lawmakers overrode the public’s vote in 2012 to rename a pedestrian bridge after the actor Chuck Norris? Or the debacle in Austin, Tex., a year earlier, when people unsuccessfully tried to name the city’s waste management service after Limp Bizkit’s frontman, Fred Durst? Corporations have also tried the tactic, and the penalty for trying to play with the Internet tends to be meaner: Mountain Dew learned the hard way when 4 Chan took control of a vote to name a new flavor, and the joke was on Taylor Swift and VH1 when the Internet chose a school for the deaf as a concert location.”

Our takeaway from 2016: “The reality is that, regardless of communication forum, many leaders can find themselves caught in this type of tricky situation: on the one hand desiring to engage with and generate buy-in from one’s constituency, on the other knowing that any individual constituent may not have a solid understanding of, or care for, the bigger picture. In many ways, the ultimate role of a leader is to bridge this gap by making sometimes unpopular decisions based on multiple data points.  The key to navigating this tension is in the nuanced understanding of when one should incorporate constituent feedback — because it’s pointing out a blind spot — and when to dismiss feedback — because it’s truly not in the best interests of the entity.”

This week, a friend sent us a WSJ article that reminded us that not every Boaty McBoatface situation needs to be taken so seriously.  Many municipalities, in an effort to boost public engagement, have run open competitions to name what the WSJ calls the “gritty fixtures of daily life”.  While officials sensor out vulgar or politically charged statements, there has been great civic engagement and positive feedback from the public on these efforts.  So now, out in the wild, there exist the following wonderful creations:

  • Sewer grate names: It’s Draining Men, Brain Drain, Make America Grate Again, Purple Drain, and Drain ‘the Block’ Johnson
  • Street Sweepers: LeBroom James, Sweeping Beauty, and Bike Dyson
  • Plows: The Big Leplowski, Crtl-Salt-Delete, Sweet Child O’ Brine, Jennifer Snowpez, Melton John, Clearopathra, Han Snowlo, Better Call Salt, Fuhgeddaplowdit, Plowdy Duty, and, our personal favorite, Snowbegone Kenobi

At Chenmark, we take our work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.  Our reading this week was a good reminder that it’s possible to be serious while maintaining a light-hearted sense of humor.  Now, if only we could be more punny. 

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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