Houston, We Have A Challenge*
In modern tymes, it is difficult to avoid corporate jargon invented by management smoothies who write books. This invasive lexicon trickles down via Meetings and Presentations to people that have not read the books. Like a parasite, it penetrates each Host and rewires his brain, implanting annoying phrases and replacing perfectly good words with bogus ones, such as “utilize” for “use,” and “impact” (as a verb) for “affect.” A “platform” is always “robust” — when a number of other adjectives would suffice. A “problem,” apparently a dirty word, is reduced to a “challenge.”
I’m not sure why corporate language is grating, but it makes my friends insane. I suppose it’s because the speakers of this terrible language are parroting management smoothies — instead of using their brains – because they think it sounds more sophisticated. Yes, that’s what it is. Dumb, over-repeated phrases are Downloaded, Integrated, and Utilized by the speaker to sound more articulate or techy.
Thinking outside the box, pushing the envelope, and being on the same page, now 20 years old, cease to amuse. But the newer ones, often hyphenated, remain rich. The white space. Multi-tiered. Value-added. Portal-based. Drill down. Impactfulness. Granular.
Hilariously, a founder of Silicon Graphics invented Buzzword Bingo, to be played surreptitiously at meetings where it is likely that speakers will deploy buzzwords or arcane business concepts rather than supplying actual information. Bingo card squares come pre-loaded with corporate jargon, and you get a dot each time some silly lingo on your card is spoken in the meeting. The various ways to announce that one has achieved BINGO are mouth-watering. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in such a meeting, mercifully, but I’d suggest alternate mischief wherein contestants randomly combine buzzwords in nonsensical ways to jar deeply tranquilized meeting-goers out of their fog, e.g., “Drilling down to multi-tiered value-addedness was impactful,” or “His low-hanging fruit is right in my wheelhouse.”
The Corporate BS Generator, a fun online pastime, takes 2 “corporate” adjectives and randomly pairs them with a noun. Synergistic, results-based solutions. Top-down, client-driven transparency. Go ahead, make your own. What’s more fun than spewing twaddle?
I asked some of the brilliant cynics I call friends for their most despised terms. Their choices:
From CT: Alignment – when all divisions of an “enterprise” need to buy office furniture in the official corporate color palette. Branding – see above regarding the color palette. Re-branding – new colors.
From VT: Silos (not the farms). Organic (not the food). Cross-pollination (not the bees).
From NY: Reaching Out – “I thought I’d reach out” rather than “I’m contacting you.” Disintermediation – eliminating the middle man. Multi-sourcing – code for outsourcing. Business Development – a.k.a Sales. Market Development – a.k.a. Marketing.
It makes me wax nostalgic about another form of invasive language, one I welcomed as Host, probably because I was an unsuspecting child at the time. It remains a part of us. Yes, television advertising.
Wessonality. Certs with Retsyn®. Figurines (“Crunch crunch crunch crunch crunch.”) “I’m Rula Lenska.” (Alberto V05). Kind of wow, kind of now (Charlie!). “She conked out, but her hair held up,” (Final Net). “…and my dress is vivid red,” (RCA). I miss the flagrantly untrue, now-illegal product claims (Mark Eden’s “bust enhancement”) as I miss TV in general back then, when snow shoes were always falling out of closets, people were routinely shot out of cannons, and “the old switcheroo” prevailed.
For good or bad, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Now TV shows are based on doctored “reality,” and the ads are all for prescription medicines (“side effects may include new body hair, sleepwalking, swollen tongue…”), or class-action lawsuits (“Were you or a loved one exposed to…THIS?”). Just as Fab detergent had an intoxicating secret ingredient (lemon-freshened Borax), today the power of suggestion secretly leads us by the hand to litigation and a cascade of daily pills. Well, at least the car commercials remain. A comfort. Until they start driving themselves.
Let’s face it. Sometimes a problem is not a challenge; it is a bloody problem. It may not be fun or solvable. I had so many “challenges” outside my “sphere of influence” recently that in the ocean I was momentarily afraid of my own shadow — thought it was some kind of ray, poised for attack. My advice: when the going gets that rough, get yourself on a robust platform that can withstand the weight of a cannon, get a cannon, climb inside it, ask someone to spark that baby up, and just get the hell out of there. Good day.
*This title written before Harvey hit Houston.
** Cannon photo credit and interesting column here.
I’d Hammer Out The Love Between
If I had a hammertoe, which I do, I’d hammer out a warning. Which is what I do unintentionally, serving as a cautionary tale for others by saying, doing, and being the wrong thing a good deal of the time. Most often, thank God, egregious missteps and ill-planned embarrassments make for the best laffs later on. It’s hard to remember this when you’re in the thick of it.
My favorite foliage incident, aside from the time when a leafpeeper in Woodstock agonized endlessly over a close-up of a lone, colored leaf to his wife’s visibly thinning patience, was my own folly: years ago I grabbed my Minolta with old film still in it and took a friend, the King, auto touring to view our autumnal Vermont panoramas—like the postcard says—ablaze with color. I painstakingly lined up shots of the King against various ridgelines ablaze with color. When I found and developed the film (!) some two years later, the ridgelines were evenly aligned, the King handsomely framed, we were young again … not ablaze with color. The old film in my camera had been, apparently, black and white. I laughed and laughed. B&W foliage photos; I’d put the moron in oxymoron.
My most horrific tales of truly awful embarrassment are ones I save for special occasions. When a friend is terribly down and needs a diversion, I trot those babies out and we are howling so hard we are c r y i n g. Alas, for our purposes here: unprintable, Dear Reader.
Modern tymes have multiplied the speed and breadth of our errors one thousand-fold. Who hasn’t forwarded an email to exactly the wrong person, Replied All horribly, tweeted from the wrong Twitter account, or Facebooked a comment that was grossly misinterpreted and made an object of scorn by complete strangers? I don’t sweat most of that because there’s pretty much nothing I’d say about someone that I wouldn’t say to their face, and why people need to chronicle their entire lives on FB is a mystery to me that I’m openly cranky about. Really, I’m a bull in a china shop in there. I think of it as a service I offer.
Facebook. Where I should be using a tweezers, I’m hammering away with a pickaxe. But come on, no one tells you anything anymore. You are expected to go into FB and find out. Which takes one hour. Every single time I go in there I waste an hour of my life on animal videos, faked graphics, and gooey, untrue comments (“You look like sisters!”), and I become aggravated. Who has time? And it’s a big, juicy venue for social gaffe-making. Not “juicy” in the way “juicy” has become a buzzword for, like, “sexy”; rather, juicy as in … I dunno … just … you’re in big trouble.
Work’s another dicey realm. With everything so bloody PC these days, it’s impossible not to offend someone — which was always case, only now there’s some crazy-awkward HR trial over it. In work meetings you may feel you talk too little or too much; if you don’t, rest assured that someone else thinks you do. It’s best to build a game around bizarre modern workplace foolishness with a trusted colleague. Then the pain becomes solid gold. Like my friends that text each other in meetings with “points” every time someone uses tiresome corporate language like “low-hanging fruit,” “cross-pollination,” or “maximizing synergistic mindshare.” They bet on who will sling the most BS in the meeting. It’s like playing the ponies only funnier and more wicked.
Suddenly: spring! Fall’s a perverse season, no? It starts out innocently enough, with a refreshing need for a light jacket, then BOOM it hammers you with icy winds and unexpected flakes. Then it’s 65. We roll with it. Because New Englanders have, another overused buzzword of late, grit. We’re tough as nails. When we’re not scrambling through unheated rooms on all fours for the box of winter clothes, frantically dialing mechanic shops with everyone else who’s realized it’s snow tire time, we’re pretty tough.
As a lingering summer became fall and (eventually?) becomes winter in Vermont, we move in our wardrobes from cotton to fleece to wool, from pink to orange to brown to red to black. Juicily and with grit – like a pomegranate, fall’s favorite fruit – we march in our not-quite-warm-enough jackets from one holiday to the next, each in its own special way affording a magical stage upon which we can make a giant ass of ourselves. Magnificent. Good day.