Every year at about this time, I make a prediction for the year ahead. Every year the prediction is the same. Every year it turns out to be wrong.
It goes like this: all trends ebb and flow, and the trend in business cant and gibberish has been flowing so long it is time for some ebbing. Every year, I decide that things have got as bad as they can get and the pendulum must be about to swing back to clarity and simplicity.
I first predicted the turn in 1997, in an innocent age when delivery was something that involved a van and when architect was a noun. However, this year I give up. Never mind the fact that in 2006 one manager solemnly told me his bank was “moving to solution-based relationships, away from relationship-based solutions”. I am predicting that things will go on getting worse. There will be no turn in 2007, or in 2008. Cant will go on growing and the trick is to enjoy it.
In this spirit I am today handing out my annual jargon awards for 2006. The first thing I considered for an award was a press release that began: “3 Dimensional Wealth International, the association for values based professionals, has been granted CE credits for its C3DWP.”
It went on with a quote: “I have never been as excited about the new professional designation, C3DWP,” said a Monroe M Deifendor Sr.
I was going to give this an award for being a) incomprehensible b) having a silly company title and for c) the fact the Monroe Sr is so excited about something so unexciting.
Yet as I read on through the pile of similar releases, I started to feel jaded. The trouble with ugly and incomprehensible things is that they aren’t funny: they are just ugly and incomprehensible and therefore don’t deserve awards, not even ironic ones.
In the end, only one exhibit has made me bend this no ugliness rule, and that was because it was so short. The award is for Ugliest Two-Word Title for Research Paper and the winner is the Federal Reserve Board for a paper called “Robustifying Learnability”.
Moving on swiftly to the main award categories, I am pleased to announce that the 2006 Gold Medal for Twaddle goes to the advertising agency BBDO Impact. It has come up with a new concept called Procrealligence, a three-way marriage of pro-activity, creativity and intelligence. It explains: “Procrealligence is the foundation of our positioning, our method for attaining the highest standard of ‘work’.” What especially impresses me here is that the word “work” is deemed so outré that it comes with inverted commas around it.
It isn’t the first time that a company has combined sensible words to make nonsense. A-b glöbâl pioneered this years ago with creovation™ and subsequently integethics™. Others have followed, most notably the giant General Electric with ecomagination. Yet BBDO takes this to a new level and clearly deserves its prize.
Award for worst e-mail sign off. For some time now “Best” has been the preferred way to end a business e-mail, and very sloppy it is too. Best what, I always wonder. It’s like saying Happy instead of Happy Christmas.
A silver medal goes to an e-mail I was sent this year that ended:
“Hope that was a value-add, Allbest.” Actually no, the e-mail was terribly dull and so not a value-add at all.
Gold goes to this sign-off: “Please revert by c.o.p. Best.” This contains an insidious new bit of jargon (revert instead of reply), a sporting term (close of play) and an acronym. It is close to genius to combine the three with such brevity.
The award for the Most Sustained Mixed Metaphor goes to Mark Fields of the Ford Motor Co who was quoted in the FT using four consecutive clichés in the same brief paragraph. “I’ve given the Ford team the same challenge. It’s time to play offence. It’s time to take back our future. The clock is ticking.”
I would also like to give a prize for the Most Misguided CEO Blog. The rule here is clear: CEOs should not blog. Blogs are democratic, controversial, chatty and full of stuff that one wants to read. By definition CEO blogs are none of the above.
So you have to hand it to Tom Glocer of Reuters for trying so hard with his blog. I particularly like the way he tells us on his MySpace entry that his “sexual orientation” is “straight”. He has a picture of his dog Luna on the site and tells us how he likes the music of Wyclef Jean, Springsteen (early) and Debussy.
And now for something a little bit special. This is an award for Company Song So Awful I Was Positive It Was a Spoof. The outstanding winner in this category is Shell. Its song is called “Growing and Winning” and is set to “We Are the World”. “We have moved on, growing day by day/Sharing strengths, we practise what is best/We are all a part of Shell’s global family/Doing work aligned with everyone.” It is a haunting mixture of pyschobabble, sentimentality and business jargon. Have a listen yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
The song came from a team-building course in Asia, and is causing Shell’s more buttoned-up executives in Europe to cringe as it gets e-mailed across the world to mass merriment. This is the curse of global communications: if you allow people in your company to express themselves freely you risk becoming the internet’s next big laughing stock.
Which leads to my prediction for 2007. Companies will get windier and more uptight about nothing getting out. Which means that no one will dare send me silly corporate stuff any more. For once this year I am hoping my prediction doesn’t come true.