If you want to get ahead in business, it is not enough to be intelligent, hard-working, and decisive. The Great Plains of Commerce are littered with the corpses of men and women who possess these qualities, and who were nonetheless stung to death by a swarm of buzzwords.
My own shortcomings in this regard became apparent a few years ago when I made the mistake of saying in a meeting that a proposed course of action, while potentially sound, might be perceived as a bit too–I groped for le mot juste; aggressive? greedy? rapacious? Everybody ignored me and we plowed ahead until a v.c.–that’s a venture capitalist, not a Viet Cong–who had arrived late stopped us in our tracks. “I don’t like it,” he said. “The optics aren’t right.”
Of course! everyone agreed. How dense we’d all been! What were we thinking? How did we lose sight of long-term fundamentals? It’s the optics, stupid! Deep down, we’d been very shallow.
In the mad scramble to the top of the heap, it is thus important that you know just the right thing to say if you want to avoid claw marks on your back and inflict them on others. Thankfully, the friendly folks at MSN CareerBuilder.com have compiled “12 Workplace Phrases You Probably Don’t Know . . . But Should,” so you can acquire a core competency in first-mover advantage while you bladda-bladda . . .
Wait a minute. The first rule of business is–you don’t have time to read! That’s what assistant vice presidents are for! That’s why they put business books on tape, or edit them down to the length of a candy bar wrapper.
In the interest of saving your valuable time, I have distilled the top 12 workplace phrases currently in circulation down to the really top 4. After all, you don’t want to be in the lower two-thirds of anything!
Let’s Not Boil the Monkey: In order for a business phrase to achieve widespread usage, it is essential that it be both colorful and obscure. Thus when Todd Breathmintsky from the Midwest regional office flies in to corporate headquarters to propose a consolidation of distribution centers to maximize supply-chain efficiencies (yawn), the only way to cut off his path to the promotion that is rightfully yours is to furrow your brow, purse your lips, put your fingers together in a little church-and-steeple and drop this stink bomb on him: “That’s all well and good, Todd, but let’s not boil the monkey, okay?”
What does it mean? Who cares? The all-knowing way in which you say it will cast doubt upon everything Todd has just said, and will ever say again in his miserable career. In six months he’ll be sleeping under a bridge.
Who screwed the iguana? A few years ago the phrase “screw the pooch” became popular, for reasons that remain obscure. It meant “make a terrible mistake,” but this wasn’t always apparent from the context of the discussion, or the tone of the speaker’s voice. As a result, those who didn’t “get it” would return to their offices and search for “screw the pooch” on their computers. When they were directed to bestiality websites, the guys in the information technology department would report them to compliance, and security would usher them out of the building after giving them just enough time to remove family pictures from their desks. Maybe that was the plan all along.
A backlash resulted, and “screw the iguana” was eventually accepted as a conversational safe harbor because there are no pictures of anybody screwing an iguana on the internet–yet. Even iguanas don’t like to screw iguanas.
Sparadigm. Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” is a highly-readable work of philosophy, and for that reason alone we ought to cut him some slack. But his term “paradigm shift” entered the business world and became an all-purpose chew toy, something to gnaw on when your jaws needed a workout.
As a result of overuse, there has been a paradigm shift away from “paradigm shift” towards “sparadigm,” which refers to a course of action that, while it may not be the best, is the only one your company can afford.
It’s not rocket surgery. When sniveling, weak-kneed, limp-wristed eunuchs in the engineering department raise objections to your Five-Year Plan for Market Domination, saying it can’t be done without an investment of resources comparable to that which went into the Space Race, turn your most withering gaze upon them and say “It’s not rocket surgery, you nimmy-not!”
Like a sucker punch, this out-of-the-blue non sequitur will stun your critics, who will be left scratching their heads, while you torpedo their careers by whispering to the CEO “I think you’d better check those engineers for head lice–they seem to scratch a lot.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Take My Advice–I Wasn’t Using it Anyway.”