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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 11 (June 1, 1930)


The ability to define correctly is dependent upon many qualities, the chief of which are accuracy, judgment and imagination. Throughout the whole range of the arts, from the painting realistically of either a scene or an idea to the description of a dress or a boxing match, these three qualities must intermingle in true proportion. Engineers and research workers must be able to define accurately, but such a power, strangely, enough, does not seem to be so necessary for inventors. These are often actually helped by an ability to ignore what, by all the known rules of the game, is impossible, and, buoyed up by an unerring intuition, to leap across wide deeps to a right, and previously undreamed of, conclusion. Correct definition in matters of the spoken or written word holds place of highest import, although the capacity for it is often undervalued because of the large number with hazy ideas to whom the necessity for careful analysis and clear statement is never obvious.

Whatever the subject dealt with, the man who can first thoroughly understand it and then so explain the case that even those with no capacity themselves for accurate statement cannot fail to take his meaning, is on the high road to success. If he can help clear statement by the magic of arresting metaphor or graphic comparison, he has every chance of dominating any situation with which he may be confronted.

The late Lord Balfour, whose death at a ripe old age is just announced, and who, during many crucial years, had a guiding hand upon British foreign policy, was one gifted with remarkable powers of analysis. His statements upon matters of Empire moment have been marked by a skilled use of the English tongue to make crystal-clear the reasons for the actions taken or contemplated by, or on behalf of, the British Commonwealth of Nations.

In law, the considered decisions of world-famous judges like Lord Mansfield, men trained to clear statement by the necessities of their profession and gifted with an added inherent power to improve on that training, frequently supply the precedents that settle points of equity for future generations.

In business affairs the same principle applies. A clear-cut statement frequently dispels mistaken notions. It drives clean through fog and camouflage and lays a sound foundation for confidence in decision. In the individual who possesses this gift, it is to be valued above rubies.

To the young men joining the railway service of this country definite ideas upon the problems confronting them and power to understand and explain situations as they arise are increasingly necessary. If the latter capacity has been developed during page 6 school days, their task is made easier and their value to the Department increased.

Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect balanced judgment based on weighty experience in the reports supplied by junior members. But to all is open the chance for correct assessment of the true meaning of any words used. This is the first essential to accuracy in definition, which should be supported by sound ideas regarding arrangement—the methodical marshalling of the facts regarding any subject reported upon.

It would be a good thing for everyone in business if a more careful study were given to the meaning of words, their derivations, their uncles, aunts, and cousins—for words, like people, have a general family history. Anyone so trained should be able to take a given set of bald facts and from these to build up a dependable, accurate report that could be relied upon clearly to place before any reader the actual situation of the matter in hand in all its bearings.