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The 59 Steps Guide to Great Business Clichés: Part Two

October 23, 2011

This is the second instalment of my guide to most prevalent business clichés rattling around the business world.  A mixture of linguistic snobbery, gross generalisations and cheap shots – dragged up from my dark side – that probably amounts to professional suicide in three easy steps. Oh well, publish and be damned…


Look at a hundred business websites. The chances are that the company will offer future-proofed services or products. Have these people learned nothing about life? The glorious thing about our existence is that we can’t predict the future. All the future-proofing in the world did not save Lehman Brothers, the Fukushima nuclear plant or Muammar Gaddafi.

True, you can mitigate risk. But depending on what you believe, either God knows what’s in store for us, or nobody does. So perhaps we should stop peddling the lie that anything created by humanity is immune from the cliff that is only yards away from us for as long as we’re here. It’s what makes life interesting, after all.


Now this is a new one to me. But the practice of turning a noun into a gerund is all too common. In this case it seems to be popular among female academics and consultants to describe the process of instilling stereotypical gender-related behaviour into young people. You know the score – girls wear pink, boys wear blue, and all that jazz.

I came across the word in a flyer for a women-only workshop here in Bahrain to be delivered by an expert whose credentials include:

“Her interest in Equality and Diversity has included ten years (sic) experience as a Springboard Women’s Development trainer and a co-designer and co-facilitator of the Gender Sensitive Management programme”.

All very worthy, but slightly scary.

Way back when, for many years I ran a business in which the majority of the staff and the entire executive team were female. So I’m not sure I’m ready for lectures about diversity. I suppose the fact that I and my male business partner actually owned the business makes me typical of the species. “That’s just like men – they’re always going about starting businesses…”.

I should stop now on this one before I become seriously politically incorrect, and a pariah among the sisters.


This has special resonance for me. A few years ago, the same business partner and I faced a couple of renegade executives who manipulated a financial crisis and covertly tried to acquire the company at a knock-down price. They told us that we would need to “take a haircut” – meaning accept that a large portion of our investment in the business would disappear down the pan. We found out what they had been doing, turned up unannounced and fired them. And lo, we’re still here today!

These days, haircut keeps cropping up in connection with Greek debt – holders of Greek government bonds have apparently agreed to take a 21% loss on their investments. Where the perversion of this innocent word came from, I have no idea. For most of us, a haircut is a pleasant experience. A little brief if, like me, you don’t have much hair left. Could the corporate haircut be the revenge of the baldies over the hirsute, perhaps?


Back to the spiritual family. Often used to describe speakers who roam around the world inspiring us with their wisdom. Think of George Clooney in Up In The Air, who blathers on about abandoning our personal rucksacks. Or Tom Peters, the Billy Graham of business. Here in Bahrain there are hundreds of posters advertising a workshop by a guy called Randall Munson, a former IBM executive who inspires us with stand-up comedy and even conjuring tricks. All with the very serious purpose, of course, of sending us out better equipped to survive in the business jungle.

A friend tells me that some of these guys charge $50,000 per engagement. Imagine – half a million bucks for ten days work a year! Even better, you don’t have to wear a tie.

You might think I’m just jealous. Too right I am…

Knowledge economy

We all want to be knowledge workers, don’t we? That way we don’t have to get our hands dirty making things, growing things. We sit in our air-conditioned offices thinking great thoughts, innovating and inventing. And we rely on lesser beings to water the plants, dig our holes and fight our wars. “Building a knowledge economy” is the mantra of the haves. It’s an elitist concept, and it fits perfectly societies that like to leave things just as they are – in the hands of the elite.


As in “my mantra is customer intimacy”. Yet another perversion of an original meaning designed to produce an aura of spirituality into a very unspiritual activity. Another example of cod spirituality in business is use of the word “Zen”. And of course we’re all “Jedi Warriors” these days, are we not not?


Up there with Gordon Brown’s “neo-classical endogenous growth” for opaque pomposity. Whatever happened to “doing things in different ways”?


Another soft, new-age version of “results”. A nice way of dressing up things that might happen over which we have no control. Like negative outcomes, of course.


Now there’s an interesting word. Everyone’s passionate these days. Passionate about earth worms. Passionate about shareholder value. Passionate about passion, even. Of course passion is an emotion. And emotion is what leaders use to manipulate followers, sellers to manipulate buyers.

The fashion for passion is such that unless we spout our incontinent joy for all to witness, we are seen as lesser human beings – buttoned-up, emotionally unintelligent.

Passion must be loud, not quiet. Public, not private. And if we have no passion, we must invent it.

Reach out

“Why don’t you reach out to x”, say the corporate-speakers. Whatever happened to “talk to”? Another of those phrases that carry a metaphysical connotation that decorates the very physical world of commerce.

Shareholder value

Equals profit, dividends or unrealistically valued stock. But for the CEO who drones on about “delivering shareholder value”, the subtext is “bonus, baby, bonus!”


As Margaret Thatcher once said: “bring me solutions, not problems”. So everyone these days is a solution provider. And don’t worry, if you’re not aware that you have a problem, we’ll make damn sure we find one that matches our solution. As Steve Jobs once said: “You can’t just ask the customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”


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