“Let’s touch base offline, we've got some blue sky thinking to run up the flagpole before close of play.”
As corporate life stands today, the above business jargon probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Strange to think however that this infestation of ‘management speak’ has its roots in Russian Mysticism.
According to the book Business Bullshit by Andre Spicer, it was pretty much the sole responsibility of one Charles Krone. “Kroning” as the term later became known was Charles Krone’s attempt to make the staff and management at Pacific Bell more businesslike after circumstance tore up the corporation's monopoly and forced it back into the real world. What it did instead was cost the company 40 Million dollars and flood the business world as we know it with a raft of meaningless and confusing terms.
A recent YouGOV poll suggests that nearly 40% of the working population hold jobs which have little to no actual purpose and ‘business jargon’ is ideal for people who find themselves in such a position. It is the language of organisations where, according to a 2014 Harris poll, employees admit to spending less than 50% of their working day actually doing their jobs. The rest of their schedule is taken up with pointless meetings and delving through pointless emails.
We are all at the mercy of this particular brand of business baloney and there is no surprise that its roots lie at the heart of what was historically a futile and costly exercise.
As we plough headlong into the 21st Century, more and more of us seem caught up in pointless routines, dialogues and rituals which are at best unproductive and in some cases downright disastrous. How can anyone be expected to raise a valid objection, or point out a proverbial iceberg, when no one knows what the hell anyone else is talking about?
And if you have been using business jargon to appear more intelligent to your colleagues or to show how well you know the language of leadership, then think again. Chances are you’ll have been perceived as less intelligent and a less sophisticated leader. Great leaders care about communicating clearly and are particularly intentional in their use of language.
Corporate nonsense may have already been ingrained into our core and yet, at least in a marketing sense, we know to avoid it like an unwashed urchin with rose sores and a cough. Savvy copywriters on the internet actually use sophisticated programs and algorithms to spot it in their own copy. It turns out, or we have at least worked out, that people find it boring, confusing and difficult to read when it comes to sales copy. However, for some unknown reason we have yet to make the same connection in the workplace.
A recent survey of 2,000 business travellers listed the 10 most hated items of "business jargon" as:
- Touch base offline (let’s meet and talk)
- Blue sky thinking (creative ideas free from practical constraints)
- Punch a puppy (do something detestable but good for the business)
- Thought shower (to come up with several ideas)
- Thinking outside the box (thinking creatively and innovatively)
- It’s on my radar (I’m aware of it)
- Close of play (the end of the day)
- Singing from the same hymn sheet (all in agreement)
- Peel the onion (to examine a problem in detail)
- To wash its own face (to justify or pay for itself)
So why does such business jargon persist?
In truth, no one knows for sure. If I were forced to guess I'd say the practice has become so embedded that we're all forced to assume it's essential. A sort of Emperor’s New Words if you will.
A change will surely come. There are already organisations out there streaming ahead because they've torn up the corporate rule book and replaced it with some nice plants, a ball pond and a chill-out room.
Human connection is the real antidote to Business BS. We need to return to the days of just saying what we really mean. Or, we need to look beyond it and at least cherry pick the few gems which do make sense. Make no mistake, business baloney is a disease and the epidemic is out of control. Its symptoms vary, it can be annoying and in extreme cases it can be fatal, but the key to keeping it under control is to collectively agree to stamp it out.
So, the next time someone asks you to square the circle, invites you up the strategic staircase, asks you to put a record on to see who dances, or worse still asks for a helicopter view of their value proposition before touching base... do us all a favour and tell them you have no idea what they are talking about. Just cut the bull!
In a new paper titled, ‘Shooting the shit: The role of bullshit in organisations’, Professor Andre Spicer
of Cass Business School claims that a preoccupation with bullshit is leading organisations to neglect
their core business and alienate employees. READ: How “bullshit” management speak is distracting organisations from their core business here.