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Steven Poole - Does a "deep dive into a big hairy audacious goal"
on 1 November 2013
Steven Poole has performed a valuable function here. Ever since the invention of "bullsxxt bingo" there has been encouraging signs of a fight back against the utterly nonsensical language spoken by modern managers who make David Brent look like an intellectual giant. Your reviewer was once genuinely told by a senior colleague to "bottom out your thinking, and get those ideas up on the table and run with them". Having pointed out that this could be physically dangerous, he muttered something about "inherent black thought negativity". What is surprising is how normally intelligent people think that spouting this verbal diarrhoea somehow makes them more sophisticated and managerially "cutting edge". Stephen Poole takes a very big needle and bursts this bubble in this humorous book "Who Touched Base in my Thought Shower?: A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon". It is essentially a trove of the spirit-sapping indignities of modern office life and its stultifying vocabulary. Indeed, the growing problem is that this type of language is starting to seep out of the office into everyday life with phrases from the pseudoscience of management theory littering broadcasting, charity funding and even sport. Ironically much of the source material for this guff is picked from these settings in the first place particularly the military. Thus " Strategy", "on my radar" and, "push the envelope". Others like "close of play" or the increasingly used "Deep Dive" are taken from a sport where of course they specific meaning that made sense in that context. Quite how strapping on scuba gear and going to the depths of the ocean in the manner of Jacques Cousteau mutated into describing a detailed examination of a subject is a bit of a mystery but when combined with other phrases from this epidemic of linguistic mumbo-jumbo it can produce unintentionally hilarious results. Poole quotes the idea of a "deep dive into a big hairy audacious goal" as a good example.
It is also notable that some former word "stars" of the management lexicon have now fallen into disfavour. The concept of "downsizing" as a euphemism for sacking people is being gradually replaced by another ridiculous term. In April 2013 that financial horror story that is HSBC announced that it was "demising 3000 roles" In short it was sacking these poor souls. It also shows a trick borrowed from modern politicians to constantly disguise meaning and spin something that is completely negative into something that doesn't sound quite so bad. This short book is relentless and it is hoped that anybody who uses terms like "run it up the flagpole", "define the north star", "give it hands and feet", "take a helicopter view", "open the kimono", "come to Jesus moment" or "drink the kool-aid" will cease forthwith and reflect on the ridiculousness of it all. Sadly while a 2012 poll found that nearly three-quarters of British workers are irritated to point of madness by office jargon some 44% admitted to using it. As Patrick Gray a Forbes consultant ruefully reflected there is a thieves code in the corporate world, namely "that I'll use words that sound important but make no actual sense and give you the same privilege as long as you don't call me out on it" Steven Poole is rightly tired and weary of all this and advises that scorn is our best weapon. He is right so let us start by taking "key project deliverables" and sticking them up your managers "backfill". Whilst doing so reward Mr Poole for the effort and agony that he must have invested in writing this book and "cascade" some money into his coffers. Other examples that readers might have experienced when it comes to this managerial tripe would be warmly welcomed as comments.