Let’s take a deep dive into the language of bullshit

by
February 13, 2018

Hold your breath! Photo by jens johnsson on Unsplash

What are words for?  For communication.  The whole point of language is to provide a means of transferring information from one person to another in such a way that they understand each other.

Try telling that to business executives, economists and politicians.  At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos delegates were treated to deluge of corporate new-speak that would probably leave most ordinary mortals none the wiser.  In this post I’m going to share a few of the most popular words and phrases for your amusement.  If your job involves attending meetings or receiving emails (what job doesn’t?) then some may already be familiar to you – but hopefully one or two will be new.

In some cases I’ve attempted to decipher them (with limited success).  But don’t worry – the point is not to understand them.  It’s to use them tactically when you want to deflect awkward questions, make others feel excluded and inadequate or let rivals know that you are not to be messed with.  They’ll look good in your LinkedIn profile too.  Enjoy!

Benchmarking

You’ve probably heard this one before, and perhaps even used it yourself.  But what, exactly, does it mean?

According to Bain, the global business consultancy, benchmarking is when “managers compare the performance of their products or processes externally with those of competitors and best-in-class companies, and internally with other operations that perform similar activities in their own firms”.

In other words “see how we’re doing compared to competitors”.

But benchmarking sounds sooo much better.  Like it has something to do with pumping iron, mental heavy lifting, that sort of thing.  Man, I am feeling so ripped, after all that benchmarking.  Look how my brain is totally bulging!”

Circularity

I googled it and this was the least confusing explanation I could find: “the fact of an argument or a theory using an idea or a statement to prove something which is then used to prove the idea or statement at the beginning”.

Huh?  I have no idea how or when I would ever use this term, but if I did it would probably prove to be killer bullshit.  Jargon on steroids, undoubtedly.

Cyber realities

Hmmm, give me a minute and I should be able to figure this one out.  Cyber, as in all things computer?  And reality, as in the kind of environment and society we live in now?  So, something to do with “the way we live now, with lots of technology and stuff”?  Or maybe “how cyborgs see the world”?  Or “everything we ever wanted to know about computers but didn’t know who to ask”?

Understand not.  Use it and sound like someone who is right up to speed with all that’s going on.  As in “Don’t fear change.  Be the change”!

Deep dive

“Research”, but by a sexier name.  We’re talking statistical scuba here.  “I plunged into the abyss of Big Data and pushed myself beyond the limits of human endurance in pursuit of an insight that would save mankind…”

Yeah, right.

Implementation mode

Here’s an explanation you may find helpful. It’s from A Johnsen’s seminal paper from 1999, Implementation Mode and Local Government Performance Measurement: Implementation mode is “Defined as to what extent a system is coupled to organisational objectives during the implementation process. An implementation mode which decouples performance indicators (PIs) from organisational objectives seems to further implementation success.”

Call yourself a thought leader?  Then you must use the term implementation mode at regular intervals.

Thought leader

Here’s the Forbes definition.  “A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”

What the Forbes definition fails to mention is that one can self-recognise.   “I identify as white, male, good looking, rich…a stable genius with perfectly normal sized hands who is a thought leader on anything I chose to put my big brain to.”

Being a thought leader is nothing special.  Everyone is.  So you better be one too.

Influencers

Like thought leaders, but different.  How different?  Err, they just are…and if you need to ask then you are obviously not one of them.  It’s like you are a Jedi Knight – the force with you is strong.

Interplay

The way that two or more things have an effect on each other.  A useful word for making the simplest stuff sound complicated.  Not to be confused with other buzzshit words such as interaction or linkage.  Buzzshit?  You’ve probably not come across that one before, as I’ve just invented it.

 

Material improbabilities

This comes from Marsh & McLennan’s new report which is stuffed with so much jargon that it is hard to read more than few words without losing the will to live.  For instance:

“Producing an inventory of material emerging risks requires both divergent and convergent thinking: on the one hand, thoughtful research and wide-ranging consultation; on the other, an effective mechanism for triaging issues and aligning on top concerns.”

Material improbabilities?  Your guess is as good as mine, which probably qualifies it as AAA rated bullshit.

Multifaceted metrics

Complicated shit.  You wouldn’t understand.

Multi-stakeholder platform/principle

This is a governance structure that seeks to bring stakeholders together to participate in the dialogue, decision making, and implementation of solutions to common problems or goals. The principle behind such a structure is that if enough input is provided by all actors involved in a question, the eventual consensual decision gains more legitimacy, and therefore better reflects a set of perspectives rather than a single source of validation.

Simples.

Resilience imperative

The need to make things strong enough – so they don’t break when put under pressure.  As in “we need to ensure the banking system is strong enough to survive another credit crunch.”  But saying it like that sounds boring – using terms like resilience imperative is a quick way to let people know you have an MBA from the LSE (even if you only did one term of business studies at Yeovil College).

 

Takeaway

Fast food for thought.  A key fact, point, or idea to be remembered, typically one emerging from a discussion or meeting.  For example, the key takeaway from this article is that you need to up your jargon quotient if you want get that next promotion.

Telegraph

To let someone know what you are going to do before you do it.  As in a central banker telegraphing their intention to raise interest rates.   Or you informing people you have to leave the meeting in five minutes because you have more important matters to attend to.

Transformative impact

An essential term for bigging up the effect of whatever it is you are doing.  As in “this blog post will have a transformative impact in the lives of my millions of readers.”

Visioneering the future

Where blue sky thinking and implementation mode interconnect to create a transformative impact.  Cooking up crazy ideas that you can never turn into reality – but which suggest you are a whizz at stir frying far out concepts in your think wok.

Web of interconnectedness

A big bad term for overstating the obvious.  A web is interconnectedness.  But it sounds more impressive when you put it like this.  “I have lots of friends on Facebook and that means we are an autonomous web of interconnectedness”.

Where we net out with this

Where we’ll end up.  The outcome, or result.  As in “after three years at university I’ll net out with a 2.2, £50,000 of debt and a job as a sandwich design operative at Subway”

Go forth and obfuscate

Hopefully you now feel verbally tooled up for the weeks ahead.  But don’t get complacent.  The corporate jargonauts never sleep, so eternal vigilance is called for.  Terms like “run it up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes”, “all on the same page” and “think outside the box” are all well past their sell by date.

Those of you who feel the need for a regular buzzword workout and essential guerrilla tactics for surviving in the cubicle jungle, then I recommend https://thecooperreview.com/.

 

2 Comments
  1. Paul Eveleigh February 13, 2018 Reply

    Thanks Jim. You made me laugh.
    Sad such jargon infects our language.
    Except humour, we have no antidote.

    • Jim February 19, 2018 Reply

      Hi Paul, yes, it's a case of laugh...or cry.

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