When I was in college, my friends and I lived in a series of off-campus apartments, each one a bigger dump than the last. Our thirst for knowledge was deeply eclipsed by our thirst for beer, which we slaked with cases of Labatt Blue.
One of our favorite ways to ingest Blue was with a drinking game called Sir. We’d watch reruns of M*A*S*H, and every time a character uttered the word sir, we’d drink a beer. If Radar or Klinger had significant roles in an episode, we knew we were in for a long night. Hi Bob was The Bob Newhart Show variant of Sir.
I can only imagine how much beer I’d drink now if I were to go to a corporate offsite or a conference and play Disruption. Or Journey. Or Silos. Or Circle Back. Or Deep Dive. Or Leverage. Or Metrics. You know what I mean. The BS corporate buzzword game.
I first became aware of the phenomenon of BS corporate buzzwords in 1997 when I was dealing with a bunch of newly-minted MBA consultants brought in by my employer. I was inclined to dislike them because of their profound ignorance of how publishing worked — their youth and wealth didn’t help — but what really got under my skin was the way they code-talked. Results were “metrics.” Good results were “robust.” What kind of BS is this, I thought? I didn’t know what they meant, and I think that was the way they liked it.
But next thing I knew, all my colleagues were using this code. Taking a close look at statistics now became a “granular view.”
Now, members of all professions use jargon to show that they’re members of the tribe, a verbal secret handshake to demonstrate belonging and being on the inside. But all this code becomes static as the words are over-used and run into the ground and become, well, BS.
I’m guilty of using corporate BS. I recently dropped “optics” in a meeting with a couple of editors and felt the force of their eye rolls.
As communicators, we all need to do a better job of finding the right words and using plain, direct, colorful language to communicate with each other, and with our audiences. And to spare each other the BS.