Funny Business

It seems I have yet again shirked my blogging duties, since it has been quite a long time since my last posting. This time, however, it wasn’t for World of Warcraft, it was actually for work. Unfortunately, I have been working quite a bit as of late and really haven’t had time to sleep, much less blog. So, I am truly sorry. Trust me… I’d rather be blogging.

I realized that I don’t write about my work much in this blog. As I always seem to do, I decided to analyze why this is the case. After giving this some thought, I believe that my reluctance to write about work is partially because I am afraid that I will mercilessly ridicule a coworker who will subsequently read the entry and respond to it by stabbing me in the face with a letter-opener. And, it’s partially because… ok, no… that’s really it.

But I have learned something that I feel the need to share with you all. Something that has long confounded the average person, which isn’t really saying much since the average person can entertain themselves for hours using only a laser-pointer. Something that I am certain can help future generations of corporate drones rise to the absolute pinnacle of mediocre middle-management. Something that doesn’t specifically single out an individual who may feel the need to suddenly and violently retaliate.

I think I have finally begun to decipher the language of business.

Before you scoff at the notion, please understand that gaining even limited comprehension of this language is no small feat. It is a language of fanciful metaphor, where words frolic playfully with each other in a sprawling field of colorful acronyms. Taken individually, the words and phrases that make up the language can seem to be fairly understandable and perhaps even a tad mundane but, when spoken by a master of the art, their relentless cadence can be beautiful and hypnotic lulling the listener into a state of drooling catatonia.

Anyway… Why have I chosen now to speak up about this topic? So glad you asked.

You see. I have reached the point in my career where I spend more time in meetings, accomplishing absolutely nothing, than I do in front of a computer, doing… you know… work. Because of a large project that I am currently involved in I have been spending even more time in meetings than usual, and many of these meetings have been with consultants instead of internal employees. Consultants are masters of this language, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Initially, I felt a kinda lost in these meetings, which I attributed to being a little “out of my league” but realized pretty quickly that it was something else. It took me a few meetings to pinpoint the exact source of my problem, but I finally figured it out… I had NO idea what the fuck these people were saying. In person, in email, or on the phone… it didn’t matter. I hadn’t the foggiest clue what they meant. The noises emanating from their mouths sounded vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t quite English.

Heya Craig, this is Cecil from JCN. I’m calling to touch base on the BCP project, and wanted to give you an ETA on the RFP. I’ll have it to you by COB. Maybe we could do lunch and discuss how we can forge a collaborative partnership that engenders synergies and create a cross-functional team to build a straw man and run it up a flagpole. Call me ASAP, OK?

I cannot properly translate all of what was said in the message above; to do so would require the Rosetta Stone, the Dead Sea Scrolls, 12 tubes of airplane glue and about 3 weeks of dedicated work. But I can understand enough of it to explain the “gist” of the message. In this case, Cecil clearly wants to do something with his flagpole and a straw man… perv.

As a technical person, to complain about the widespread use of acronyms might just be a wee bit hypocritical, so I will forgive them on that count. But why do they have to use different words than the rest of us? The other day, one of the consultants said they had an “Ask”. Really? What happened to the word “Question”? It’s a perfectly good word that everyone understands well. It really didn’t need to be replaced by noun-ifying the word “Ask”. Morons.

To give them the benefit of the doubt, I decided to check the dictionary to see if there was any definition of “ask” that was a noun. Turns out that there is! It’s a word from Scandinavian Mythology meaning: “The first man, made by the gods from an ash tree.”. So I apologize for calling you a moron in the previous paragraph; clearly you were just trying to let me know that you had a wooden man. Can’t wait to see it.

And what is the deal with all the metaphors? They are worse than the misused words! Half the time when one is used, someone in the meeting has to ask (properly used!) what it actually means. Doesn’t that completely defeat the purpose of actually using a metaphor? Aren’t we trying to effectively and efficiently communicate here? Perhaps this simple rule will help:

Rule: Any word or phrase that, when uttered, makes everyone in the meeting think “what the fuck did he just say?” is probably less than ideal for communications purposes.

All of this is bad enough when people do it “properly”, but what is worse is when non-consultants attempt to use the same language and completely mess it up. The average corporate parasite doesn’t really try to understand anything that a consultant does before they try to emulate it and the result can be somewhere between annoying and amusing.

Me: I think we should proceed cautiously.
*silent nods from around the room*
Cecil: We can no longer ignore the hippo in the room!
Me: The… what?
Cecil: Let’s just throw the monkey on the table here.
Me: Wait… what happened to the hippo?
Cecil: We have to open our kimonos! You first Craig… go on, open your kimono!
Me: I… um… can we go back to the hippo?

I tried the kimono thing in a meeting once… it didn’t end well.

After I heard “Open the kimono” once, I just had to look up it’s origins. Turns out, it came from Japanese Folklore:

The Goblin Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals of Japan” vol. 18, p. 84: It was believed that the wolf was shameful of sexual things, having no strong sexual instincts. He would never disclose his organ, but hide it behind his hanging tail. Should a person perchance see his sexual act, he or she would have to open the kimono and disclose his or her own organ, so as not to shame the wolf.

So, when I hear “We need to open our kimonos” in a meeting I know that I am supposed to hear “Let’s have no secrets” but I am really hearing “Let’s all expose our junk to a wolf”.

And while many more of these phrases have a similar charm, I have to admit that one of my personal favorites has always been “touch base”. If you close your eyes, you can almost picture the speaker gently brushing their fingertips across the surface of the base as they sprint gracefully past you. But aside from the powerful imagery, for me this phrase has always had an even deeper purpose because, if you asked me, it is a very effective asshole-detector.

I have frequently used the number of “touch base” references per minute (or tb/m) to gauge the “asshole coefficient” of the speaker, which is typically much higher in salespeople who apparently need to say these words at least once every 10 minutes to avoid being ridiculed at their country club (including the occasional “wedgie” in the locker room after squash games).

At a previous job, one salesperson left me a 30-second voice-mail in which he said “touch base” 3 times, giving him an asshole coefficient of 6 tb/m, which is off the charts! This breed of super-salesperson can only be killed by dipping a Mont Blanc pen into a Grey Goose Martini and using it to stab him right through his blackened heart. Only a direct hit will do the job.

There is so much more of this language to cover, but I think I will save them for a future blog entry since this one is getting a bit long. Until then, keep proactively leveraging cutting-edge best-of-breed turnkey solutions for business-critical systems!

2 thoughts on “Funny Business

  1. I have to compliment you on accurately capturing on of my own nits. As I work with sales people on a daily basis, I see this all too often, but have to sort of grin and bear it…
    FYI, the reason why this language is perpetuated is even more astonishing… here is my take.
    It seems that many moons ago, many salespeople were trained in this language, and by using it proceeded to confuse enough people to get promoted. In fact, this is seen as one of the secrets to success in sales – along with creating fear, uncertainly, doubt, and general feelings of idadequacy as you noted. The goal is the make the customer think that they are inferior and therefore need the salesperson to be successful.
    So, when these managers are asked how they did it, they call out they respond in their business centric lingo and explain that it is a way to measure their business accumen (completely false). This leads the, spending piles of money to send all their staff members to get trained in this language. What they neglect to realize is that their customer’s did not attend this same class, so they typically find this irritating, unless of course they too are senior management, in which case they simply wink and nod in silent recogntion of their shared recipe for what they deem as success.
    Here’s a clue for them all – try clarity and honesty – it’s simple and it works… and memeber, if you show your junk to a wolf, there is a chance he’ll BITE IT OFF!!!


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