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  Writing for Business and Pleasure

  Copyright 2014 by
Stephen Wilbers

Column of the Month



If I asked you how many examples of business jargon you could come up with in 10 seconds, how many examples would it be? How many examples can you find in this column? Not counting clichés such as meaningful understanding and ongoing dialogue and awkward expressions such as profit-wise, I count more than a dozen.


First published November 27, 2006

Jargon inhibits clear thinking

By Stephen Wilbers

We were sitting down for a meeting. It was Brian’s first day on the job. I had been told to look after him.

I handed a napkin to him and motioned for him to dab behind his ears. For some reason it was wet there.

“Thanks,” he said nervously. “Is it that obvious?”

“You’ll get the hang of it,” I said. “Just listen carefully to the CEO’s words.”

“Right. I’ll pay close attention.”

“I don’t mean listen to what he says,” I explained. “I mean listen to the way he says it.”

“Got it,” said Brian. “Thanks, man.”

Our CEO entered the room and took his seat at the head of the table.

“I’ll begin with a helicopter view of the situation,” he said in a booming voice that resonated with insight and authority. “Frankly, the bottom line is that we basically won’t achieve a meaningful understanding of the overall parameters of this complex issue until such time as we have determined the cost-effectiveness of our strategic thinking.”

A few of my cohorts nodded their assent. Brian leaned toward me and whispered, “What’s he talking about?”

“He’s horizoning,” I explained.

“He’s what?”

“He’s horizoning. He’s encouraging us to think about the future, to take the long view, to predict the company’s performance.”

“Of course,” said Brian. “I should have realized that when he mentioned the helicopter.”

“Just soak it in,” I said. “Once you learn the lingo, you’ll be in like Flynn.”

“Hopefully,” our CEO continued, “our ongoing dialogue with our clients will impact our capability to proceed, profit-wise, on a need-to-know basis.”

Brian nudged me. “Does he mean we should pay attention to our customers?”

“Very good.”

“So today I invite you to think outside the box,” said our CEO, “to do a little blue sky thinking.”

Brian gave me a quizzical look.

“To think in a visionary way,” I explained. “To not be overly concerned with practical considerations.”

“Got it,” Brian whispered. “Blue sky. You can see it from the helicopter. It’s starting to make sense.”

“To help us drill down into this issue . . .” said our CEO.

“To get more detail?” Brian queried. I nodded.

“. . . we need to consider how customer expectations interface with reasonable delivery times. Wilbers, any ideas?”

As the CEO’s go-to guy, I was expecting him to call on me.

“Well,” I said, trying to mimic his authoritative voice, “I won’t brain dump on you, but obviously we need to get our ducks in a row.” At the mention of ducks, Brian looked at me admiringly. “We need to do some joined-up thinking here.”

I paused dramatically. You could have heard a pin drop.

“Basically,” I said, “we have obviating conditions here, neither of which should be viewed or expostulated upon in isolation, one from the other.”

I could tell from the CEO’s expression that I had hit a home run.

After the meeting, Brian followed me outside the room. “You were awesome,” he said. “I mean, cutting edge, dude, like shovin’ the envelope.”


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