Business Speak


Whether it ever was I am not entirely sure, but these days the language of business is never as simple and understandable as it could be. The more one reads business documentation like reports, advertisements, letters and emails the more evident it becomes that business writing and communications are too often complicated by buzz words and deliberate obfuscation so as to give the author some bizarre, business coolth.

I mean how many minutes is it since you heard someone talking about, ‘going forward’ on some or other project? Even the government likes using it where it can. Ministers can often be heard insisting to the populace they, ‘will go forward’ on an issue. Why? In what other direction would they go?

Then take business projects – don’t you prefer the ones that have, ‘low hanging fruit’? Apparently this means there are parts of the project that can be achieved without any effort. Of course it also inadvertently implies that the rest of whatever it is will probably, by comparison, be impossible. So what presumably happens is everyone involved rushes to remove the low hanging fruit, and then disappears onto the next project.

A similarly agricultural phrase is not letting, ‘the grass grow too long’ on something. Perhaps in the interests of really articulating a point the analogies could be joined as in, ‘Let’s not let the grass grow on the low hanging fruit…’?

Probably the industry best known as a source of business-speak, is the IT sector. At one Computer Company, a USA multinational, anyone involved with a particular product is known as a, ‘product evangelist.’ And continuing the religious theme, we are told software users should want to be, ‘platform atheists’ so that their computers can run programs from any manufacturer. Another IT phrase that seems to be popular is, ‘take it offline’ – as in discuss a point that is not relevant to the current discussion at some other time.

Interestingly, just as a phrase is becoming part of the vernacular; it appears it becomes time to change it. For example, ‘brainstorm’ is gradually becoming, ‘idea shower’. In other words it seems, ‘brainstorm’ just hasn’t got much, ‘traction’ any more.

Does all this business jargon make things any easier to understand? I don’t think it does. Like all slang it seems to achieve nothing more than give entrance to a select circle of like-spoken people, who actually are just showing off how clever they are about their industry as they strangle to death any real meaning of it to outsiders.

I was told the other day about a boss who informed his staff he would be, ‘cascading’ them with suggestions and ideas about their new project. What he really meant was he would be disseminating information to them; but to me what he appears to have said, in not so many words, is that he would be urinating on them, (metaphorically, of course…).

One phrase I quite like is, ‘best of breed’ as in, ‘if we are going to survive in this market we’ll need to challenge the best of breed.’ Sounds great, but what I suspect it really means is, ‘our service is rubbish compared to our biggest competitors…’

Sometimes companies using buzz words give away clues as to how badly they operated before they adopted some new in-phrase. Take, ‘customer centric’ as in, ‘We need to be customer centric from now on.’ Oh, so what you are really saying is that up until now you didn’t particularly care about your customers? Suddenly you seem to realise, because ultimately you sell to customers and they are the reason you are in business, you now might as well listen to what they want. Hopefully it’s not too late…

Of course you could always look for, ‘first mover’ advantage. Which means if you pay massive advertising costs to educate people about a new development you’ll hopefully have the advantage of getting lots of customers. Of course if not, then all you will have done is paid to educate people while companies with no advertising costs reap the grassless, low hanging fruit; sorry, the rewards.

Or you could concentrate on the, ‘high level’. Remember, the more important you are because you use all these strange words and funny phrases, the more concerned you must be with ‘high level’ thinking. Actually, what this really means is nothing more than similar to looking at the, ‘big picture,’ you are just taking an overall view, rather than looking at the, ‘granular’ or nitty-gritty detail. But it does sound quite grand.

And then what about the phrase, ‘out of pocket’? No it doesn’t mean broke or short changed. It is used in the sense of, ‘I’ll be out of pocket for the next few days and won’t be able to finish the project.’ (But probably means, ‘I’m shacking up with my girlfriend so you won’t see me for a while.’)

A popular commodity in the world of buzz-words is gold. How often have you read in the business sections of newspapers of executives who have received, ‘golden parachutes’ or conversely who are tied to a company by ‘golden handcuffs’? And what of a company’s, ‘golden goose’ (the most valuable asset)? One I hadn’t heard of is, ‘goldbricker’ – someone who works harder at looking valuable than actually contributing. Lots of gold doing the rounds, but is any of it adding to the bottom line?

Anyway, before I go out of pocket I think I’ll take this offline, rather go gather whatever low hanging fruit there is on my next assignment and not let the grass grow on my efforts; but go forward as a first mover and stop cascading you with all these cynical comments about these best of breed little business-speak gems, as I think I could be impacting on my role as the paper’s golden goose as they thrive on them and hope they will take traction.

‘Unpack’ that.