From the Irish Times here >>>
Despite the recession, the abundance of doublespeak suggests the bulls**t industry is in good shape, writes LUCY KELLAWAY
EVERY YEAR around this time, I hand out awards for paradigm-shifting, best-in-class management guff. I had expected the 2009 Guff Awards to be a sorry affair, as the bulls**t industry has been suffering its worst slump since the Great Depression.
But as I went through my bulls**t cupboard, I was surprised and reassured by the quality of the material. Even in bad times, it seems, some managers can still push the envelope and go the extra mile. So, without more ado, I’m going to get on and hand out the prizes.
The first is for the best noun pretending to be a verb. This is always a fiercely contested category, but in 2009 there was a clear winner: Neil McMahon, an oil analyst, told the Wall Street Journal that Exxon “might be able to change the industry structure forever and gap away from competitors”. McMahon has thus gapped away from competitors and scoops up the prize.
The next award is for the most grating use of the preposition “up”. In previous years there have been some great entries here: to head up and to flag up. But this year’s is more unusual. It comes from a persistent PR man who said in an unsolicited e-mail: “I wanted to circle up with you to make sure you had received my note below.”
Curl up, I understand. Circle up, I don’t.
In 2009, firing people was a popular activity, and the best new term for describing it goes to Air New Zealand, which announced it would “disestablish up to 100 long-haul cabin crew positions”.
It was also a year in which people often didn’t have any idea what was going on. The award for the best new way of saying “I haven’t got a clue” goes to a pharmaceutical manager, who was heard to say: “I don’t have a good optic on that at the moment.”
It was not just bad things that managers found new words for. They could not even call good spades spades. This year I’m awarding a prize for unnecessary euphemism to Andrew Liveris, chief executive of Dow Chemical, when talking to analysts about various choices facing the company: “We have significant optionality,” he said.
One of my favourite awards every year is for the mixed metaphor. Sebastian Coe, who has won gold medals in the past for running, now wins another for this line in his platitude-rich autobiography The Winning Mind: “There are times when there is a need to dig deep and find another gear – while never losing sight of the bigger picture.” This three-way mixed metaphor so confuses the reader that it enables Coe to avoid saying anything at all.
The prize for best staff notice goes to Nokia in its staff car park in Peru. Over each parking space it says: “It is me who arrives here, early in the morning, hoping to change the world.”
This shows how US evangelical corporate language travels to Finland and then to Peru and, as in Chinese whispers, what emerges at the end is like the original, only sillier.
The best company song this year is won hands down by Gazprom. A middle-aged Russian manager sings: “Don’t bother trying, you’ll never find a surer friend than Gazprom” – lyrics that manage to be both sinister and sentimental at the same time. It is all here: fur hats, key changes, deer running and cute kiddies peering into pipes. The effect is Borat, only more surreal. I urge you to watch it on YouTube.
The award for best job title had many entries, as ever, but is won by a young woman journalist student – whose name I’m not revealing – who doesn’t actually have a job yet, and so has put on her business card: “Life explorer, multimedia storyteller, experience architect.” If journalism were about telling it like it is, this would not be a good start; yet something tells me she may be a name to watch in 2010.
The most irritating sign-off for an e-mail was unquestionably “Hope that helps”, though at the last minute the judges decided not to award it the prize. This goes instead to HTH, a nasty little abbreviation, against which “rgds” (my previous worst abbreviated sign off) starts to look gracious.
Finally, an award for the year’s top cliche, which goes to “the elephant in the room”. In the last year there has scarcely been a meeting room anywhere in which an elephant has not pitched up at some point. In leading newspapers and journals alone, last year 3,700 elephants were reported as being in rooms, while in 2000 the number was only 175. If one had to sum up 2009 in one sentence, it was the year in which elephants bred like rabbits. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010