Monday, November 26, 2007

The Essays 2: Death to Buzzwords

What I would Change?
Fantastic, an ideal opportunity to have a whinging rant at the world about any pet hates I have. Or for some blue sky thinking.

Oh I did it. I used a business buzzword. Which is what I really, really want to change.

I hate them. All of them. Ball park figure - I am English, What is a ball park anyway? Lowest hanging fruit – unless you work in an orchard this makes sense how? Thinking out of the box – I was not aware I was in one.

What is wrong with approximate figure rather than ball park figure? What is wrong with saying, easiest goal rather than lowest hanging fruit? Why not say – we need to try and be original.

Like any jargon or patois, management speak is a language design to include and exclude certain people. Should you not like using phrases such as ‘kicked into the long grass’ or ‘Elephant Traps’ then you are not a dynamic, go ahead, sharp and active person, capable of ‘pushing the envelope’ or developing ‘synergies across the corporate universe’. If you do one half of your organisation thinks you are the latter, the rest think you are either a) demented b) a toadying servile gimp c) both.

It has got so bad that people write books on it. There are competitions for Business Word bingo, and even British Airways has a feature in its in-flight magazine with the latest business words and what they mean.

Clichéd, hackneyed and tired they are used by Management and management wannabes to sound like they know what they are doing. And before you know it they are everywhere. Even ministers and politicians are using them.

So instead of using language to communicate, clearly conveying thoughts and ideas, it becomes a tool to divide and to be obstructive.

Is there anything more disheartening than sitting through a senior management briefing as they reel of a series of these phrases, occasionally linked together with the odd ‘we need to’ or ‘we must use’? By about the third phrase you are already beginning to nod off or are drawing fantastically complicated doodles on the note pad in front of you.

Because that is the real point. These phrases do not work. A simile is only good if cogent, relevant to the parties hearing it and usually fairly original. ‘Lowest hanging fruit’ sounds great to a bunch of fruit farmers when talking about getting the easiest thing done first. To people working on helping the homeless it does not really work.

They also, over time, the get baggage as saying them reminds people of other times they were used. Lowest hanging fruit often means going for the quick and easy, in a hurry, so we can all walk away from the project pretending it worked, rather than it actually achieving what it was meant to do.

Similarly, efficiency. We hear that world and we all think;- job cuts, pay cuts no Christmas party, no more biscuits at meetings. The actually meaning of efficiency;- the accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort, is obviously what everybody should strive for. Who wants to put more effort in than is necessary? To be inefficient, is wasteful.

But in Management speak, ‘tightening our belts’, ‘effective case management ', ‘non-duplicative/reduces duplication’ are phrases always is used in favour of just coming straight out with ‘we are going to cut jobs’. Of course if you did say that some one would ask why. If you use enough buzzwords then no actually listens.

And this is the true reason for it existing, its raison d'être. Using management speech allows you to say that you have spoken to people but you have used so many buzzwords no one actually understands what you have told them. The old way of keeping the masses in place was to use other languages – like French above. Now we use buzz words, to baffle, bamboozle and befuddle.

Where as a simile or phrase was originally intended to shed light on a matter, now they shroud it in ‘lingo’.

Can you see the policy? Not for all the phrases such as capacity building, system change awareness and coordinated delivery.

The Plain English Campaign has the right idea. Our bosses, politicians and leaders have to stop using gobbledygook. Is it any wonder no-one real knows what they are doing? They should say what they mean and no longer hide behind trite clichés.


Stephen Rees said...

Japan's buzzwords

Every December, The Japan Times reports, the editors of the country's Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words choose a ryuko go taisho - buzzword of the year. There are 60 to choose from on the 2007 shortlist, including: otomodachi naikaku (cabinet of buddies); kieta nenkin (vanished pension payments); sonnano kanke ne (who gives a damn - the catchphrase of a half-naked dancing comedian); and Oshirikajiri mushi (buttock-biting insect, the name given to an animated fairy who "brings happiness to human beings by biting their bottoms").

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