Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Reusing text and graphics (is recycling bad for the business environment?)

(Depending upon your political persuasion, you can pretend that this conversation is taking place in January 2013 or January 2017. Whenever it happens, the point remains the same.)

TIME: The Future

Barack Obama was going to leave office in a couple of week, after the new President took the oath of office. Before President Obama left, he wanted to give a farewell address that covered his accomplishments and his vision of the future. He gathered some of his key advisors together to discuss this.

BARACK OBAMA: So what do I want to say?

HILLARY CLINTON: Why don't you take a look at George Washington's farewell address? That was a pretty good one.

BARACK OBAMA: But I don't know if the "entangling alliances" message really makes sense today.

JOE BIDEN: I know! I know! Look at Lincoln's farewell address!

BARACK OBAMA: Joe, Lincoln DIED. He didn't give a farewell address....

OK, maybe the Obama administration wouldn't operate like that - but perhaps your business does. Whenever you gather a group of people together to create a document or a presentation, there are sometimes some requests to look at a document or presentation that was done before.

Why would something like this be suggested? Two reasons.

First, because re-use of the old material provides a proven solution. Since Washington's farewell address has been admired throughout the centuries, why not use it again? An old solution can often yield a guaranteed level of success.

Second, because re-use of the old material saves time. It's hard to create something new completely off the top of one's head, and if you take some old material and just tweak it here and there, then the job will be done much more quickly.

Of course, there's a big danger in recycling material - namely, that the recycled material doesn't apply in the current situation. Using the Washington farewell address example, we recognize that things have changed since Washington's time - or even Eisenhower's time. In 1796, the United States had to face the possibility of annihilation from either the United Kingdom or France. In 2013/2017, the United States faces a different set of dangers.

There's another danger in recycling material. What if you forget to do the necessary edits? I've run across recycled material involving customer A that suddenly mentions customer B. What happened is that the material was originally prepared for customer B, but when it was adapted for customer A someone forgot to make a crucial edit.

Of course, if you have a powerful message that is equaly applicable to multiple customers, then there's no harm in recycling it. But re-use of old material should always be done with caution.
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