June 20, 2012

Business clichés.

89 of them.

ADDED: #53 might strike lawyers as misguided:
It’s not actionable enough/what’s the deliverable? = You guys do the work on refining the idea. I’m too tired.
Years ago I worked at a market research firm that had a video ad that it used to show prospective clients. It went on and on, but the repeated tag line was: Above all, it's actionable!

I thought it was embarrassing and all the actionable business was funny, but I had never seen the word and simply assumed it had the intended meaning — that the firm was good at springing into action and getting things done.

When I got to law school and saw the meaning the word has in tort law, I experienced a strange mixture of pity and mirth.

Looking at the OED today, I see the tort law meaning — "Giving cause for legal action" — goes back to 1601:
1601   W. Lambard Archion (1635) 102   Baited, & bitten with libells & slanders that be not actionable.
The other meaning — "Able to be acted upon or put into practice; useful, practical" — goes back only to 1913:
1913   C. Frederick New Housek. xii. 192   Refuse to let the mind wallow and dawdle around a problem without arriving at definite, actionable conclusions.
Here's a recent one:
2004   Jrnl. Amer. Med. Assoc. 14 Jan. 184/2   The availability of advanced technology has changed the nature, scope, and potential of drug utilization programs to provide valuable, actionable, patient-specific information to prescribers.
You'd think the AMA folk would be more sensitive about tort law.


Chip S. said...

I stopped at the first page.

Any article that thinks "ROI" is just some stupid business cliche isn't worth reading.

Freeman Hunt said...

The Walmart I go to is always full of business people because it is the showcase store for the Walmart home office and so a popular spot for vendors and home office employees.

I passed two business people talking in the parking lot a couple weeks ago and heard this:

"We'll implement the protocol and streamline it later."


KLDAVIS said...

Business jargon is so painful. I left an in-house position at a law firm last year to join a huge consultancy and I feel like I speak a different language than the vast majority of my co-workers. The largest problem I've encountered is that my success no longer seems to defined by results. From what I can tell, it's defined by how everyone feels when the project budget eventually runs out.

Freeman Hunt said...

They should do a list of horrible books stereotypical business people recommend.

Freeman Hunt said...

A conversation I once had with the name changed.

"Ugh! Where did this book come from?"
"Jack just finished it and wants me to read it."
"Ha ha. He's reading a business book a week."
"I know."

John M Auston said...

Reading a business book a week is a questionable endeavor, but not if you're this guy, and you produce, from that, what I consider to be an absolutely outstanding business book - the best I have even read.


Freeman Hunt said...

I think that great business books exist, but I don't think they're usually the popular ones.

tim in vermont said...

First time I heard "actionable" was Condi Rice talking about intelligence chatter.

'Actionable' may be over used, but the concept is valid.

edutcher said...

Ours was, "What does it do to the project plan?".

Followed closely by, "Is the process broken?".

Chip S. said...

The latest bit of jargon I find annoying is "optics", as in "the optics are bad". "Optics" has a perfectly clear and useful meaning, which has only a little to do with "visuals" (the previous jargon term) or the humble but fully accurate term "appearances".

Michael said...

ChipS. "optics" is less incriminating than " it looks bad.". Much of business bullshit is meant to be exculpatory in some way.

Chip S. said...

Michael, Then all business discussions should be conducted in Spanish. Being able to say "se me olvido" (literally, "it was forgotten to me") instead of "I forgot" is about as exculpatory as a technically correct statement can get.

bagoh20 said...

"Of course, if you really become a samurai master of using all 89 of these cliches,.."

He's called a black belt.

I'm with Chip in comment 1. A lot of these are just language everybody uses to express ideas common and useful in business. Some are silly crap that mean nothing and do label you as as worse than worthless, but a shorter list would have been better.

tim in vermont said...

OT/ Thistle Uncut


"It's not like anarchists are against organization"

"The more frustrated I get, the more mean you guys become towards me, and I don't like that"

"Torture tactics worked!"

"You're sexy, you're cute! Take off that riot suit!"

Maybe it was Thistle who slapped Barret.

john said...

I'd like to see all of these used in a single episode of "The Office".

Chuck said...

Speaking as a lawyer, I think Prof. Althouse is totally right.

"Actionable" is a useful, compact, meaningful term in litigation (not just tort law but mostly tort law).

I use the term regularly in professional correspondence. There are few other equivalent terms; I could avoid its usage if I had to but there is no good reason not to use it as intended.

Otherwise, outside of the world of "causes of action," the word "actionable" is embarassing jargon.

tim in vermont said...

"the word "actionable" is embarassing jargon."

In the world of "big data," one can have literally billions of incoming atoms of data. One then sifts through it, finds a few gems of information that can be acted upon to improve the performance of the system in question from the sea of data. How would you describe this information?

John Burgess said...

With State Dept., it was always about the 'deliverables'. Except when it was wondering why there wasn't enough money to do programs.

traditionalguy said...

At the DVD store the sections include Action Movies and everybody understands.

ActionAble lawyers must be a misprint. And then there was Rumpole of the Old Bailey.

Query: can a female lawyer beome an actionable lawyer, or is that for men only?

It would be sexist to greet Ms Attorneye in the office in the morning, " Did you get any action last night?"

David said...

I'm afraid to look.

There are probably way too many on the list I have used.

I wonder if there are any I invented?

Oh, the shame.titurthe

Shanna said...

Synergy! I like actionable, though.

bagoh20 said...

Getting an email from one of my larger customers with some of that jargon in it is the worse thing that happens to me on a regular basis.

It means my customer (always a big company) has a problem with profitability. They don't know what it is or how to fix it. They hired someone university educated, formerly employed by a larger company, who needs work and convinced them that he can fix it if given enough money, people and power.

I end up with tons of paperwork, busy wasteful projects, and months of distractions for my people from our core business functions.

After about a year these things always fall apart, the consultant gets fired, and it all evaporates into a big cloud of burnt money and time.

Now when I get a call or email from one of these guys, I always feel like just telling them straight out that you will be gone in 12 months and just put me at the end of your list to see if you get that far.

But of course, the customer is always right, even when he's being scammed, so we go along for the ride again.

The last time this happened just recently, I told the customer higher-ups my experience and how their larger competitors had failed at this repeatedly. Unfortunately, that just got them fired up, and they told me that the others failed because they weren't as committed as them. Wonderful! We are more committed to failed ideas than our competition is.

It reminds me of the Democratic Party.

Chuck66 said...

As a veteran of Big Corp, I say that business cliches are like dressing up for work. People think they have more credibility if they look nice/speak in business cliches. Even if said jargon doesn't make sense in the way it is used.

Peter said...

The largest BizTalk cliche is the need to turn nouns into verbs.

Although any noun can be verbed, it's not always a good idea to do so.

And I haven't even started on sports analogies.

traditionalguy said...

The lawyers went into a period of prefacing every statement with the caveat that they were only "giving you a down and dirty version of the facts."

That came and went like 8 track tape players, but it was a signal of the younger lawyers who were asserting that they were hard workers that could dig up more when trial came, unlike you who just told what was true.

Alex said...

I agree that a lot of business jargon is designed to make managers look important. But when it comes to software, 'deliverable' is a vital word and it means something.

KLDAVIS said...

Perfect example...was having a conversation with someone the other day. And, they said, "Oh, I think I have a deck you can use." "I mean, leverage."


bagoh20 said...

I recently got a bunch of documents from one of these consultants describing his new quality program, and telling me how important accuracy and quality is, and how we must insist on a high bar and not let any defects through.

The thing was nearly undecipherable, and had a couple misspellings on nearly every page.

It's 2012. Don't these people have a correction ribbon?

John M Auston said...

"actionable" is a perfectly acceptable word to use. It's use is quite broad.

For example, in IT, I've said 'Why are we doing this expensive stress test, since the result is not actionable."

Meaning, we will be taking no action based on the result, regardless.

If the result is positive, we install the system. If the result is negative, we explain it away as "not reflecting the real world anyway", and install the system.

Most of the time, things need to be actionable, to be even worth doing. So it's a useful concept.

Mary Beth said...

I think the problem with ROI is when it's used in place of "what's in it for me?" and not the actual business's return on investment.

Simon Kenton said...

Had a boss who had come to the corporation from being a tackle at _______ U. He was affable, broad shouldered, and an amiable drunk who rose to the VP level. He handled everything with the same line:

"First rate work, Simon. Really. I'd like you to take it back, sharpen it a bit, and focus some more visibility on the bottom line."

I was inclined to fault this for witlessness, but on the other hand, it had worked for 15 or 20 years. and from what I heard, worked for another 15. He was to die in harness, of one of the weight-related diseases. Where be his foci, his sharp bits, and his visibilities now?

Mary Beth said...

We take a “ready, fire, aim” approach here

Firing before aiming, now I understand why so many new businesses fail.

I do want to use "I don't have enough bandwidth" whenever I'm asked to do something I don't want to do. I probably won't though, "no" has worked well for me so far.

CWJ said...

I with "tim in Vermont" on this. Ann how could you think actionable might mean that the firm would be good at "springing into action." Yes, it's a cliche, yes it was (is) overused, but no one, and I mean no one, in the business would have given the term the meaning you thought.

To then take the term out of its business context and then force a comparison to its technical meaning in a legal context is silly at best, arrogant and myopic at worst, and irrelevant in fact.

I have no idea what your tenure in market research entailed, but I am sure both market research and law are better off for your changing avocations.

Revenant said...

Otherwise, outside of the world of "causes of action," the word "actionable" is embarassing jargon.

It is neither jargon nor "embarrassing". It simply means "able to be acted upon".

Distinguishing between plans/information you can act on, and plans/information you cannot, is kinda important, no?

Crunchy Frog said...

Perfect example...was having a conversation with someone the other day. And, they said, "Oh, I think I have a deck you can use." "I mean, leverage."


The word "deck" started popping up around here a couple years ago as shorthand for "powerpoint presentation, often based upon a template". Someone must have read it in a biz book or something.

Stupid MBA newspeak.

Michael said...

Crunchy frog. Deck was used in the late nineties. Dot com speak.

wyo sis said...

Lots of these have been adapted to education. I can't tell you how often I've heard "ready, fire, aim," "synergy," and "new paradigme." I'm so excited to try "se me olvido!" I think it could go viral.

DADvocate said...

I work in a marketing research firm now. I'm exposed to a lot of the top companies in the world. I often wonder how anything gets done, let alone successfully done.

When something goes wrong with a project, there's the inevitable "How can we keep this from happening again?" My favorite response, "Kill all the humans." BTW - any responses to the question, no matter how applicable (actionable?), or good are generally forgotten after a week and the cycle repeated.

Chip Ahoy said...

I'm so glad you mentioned you will like to be pro active on this because I was sitting here thinking the whole time about being anti active. *wipes brow* Phew.

Chip Ahoy said...

At the end of the day ...

12:00 midnight. It happens, is irrelevant to the subject at hand, where everyone went home around 5:00 pm., then come back in the morning to pick up where they left off. Sometimes they carry on longer but the end of the day never has anything to do with anything.

Is that on the list? Didn't look. I'm too easily irritated and I pick up these nits too easily already. At the end of the day I just don't need any more.

That's a shibboleth that tells me you're stupid.

Teri said...

A couple of years ago we got a CFO who was barely capable of a normal conversation. Jargon, abbreviations, long-drawn-out sentences that had words but no meaning. At budget time, we got an email telling us to give her our ASK. I had been able to figure out what most of the other acronyms were (google is my friend) but this one completely stumped me.

I finally asked her assistant what "ASK" stood for, and she stared at me and said, "It's what you are asking for in your budget."

I looked at her and I said, "You mean 'ASK' means 'ask'? Like it's just the word ask? Why did she write it as an acronym? Is it too hard to say 'How much money are you asking for this year?'"

The assistant said gently, as though to a teenage schizophrenic, "You know she comes from a high-powered national finance firm, so we are lucky to have her and her new ideas. She's really bringing a paradigm shift . . ." I was edging backwards out the door so I didn't hear the rest.

Chip Ahoy said...

The sample sentence also has utilization where use is better.

What is it about the word utilization that you think makes your sentence sound so much more important, holds so much more gravitas, than if you had used the word use? Huh? Four extra syllables. You are a syllable waster and that is inefficient. Good day, Sir Isaidgoodday!

William said...

"You've got to work smarter not harder." If ever a cliche deserved to be emblazoned on the gates of Auschwitz. Real meaning: It's not an impossible work load, you're just stupid.

pst314 said...

The Last Actionable Hero, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

tim in vermont said...

"It’s not actionable enough/what’s the deliverable? = You guys do the work on refining the idea. I’m too tired."

This one still bothers me...

What if I said to my boss, "we need to make the user interface 27% more intuitive," then offered no further input?

How does one put that into action? What does one deliver? If my boss said that to me, there is a good chance that the next thing out of his mouth might be "going forward..." He would be right.

My favorite sentence I actually heard out of a boss's mouth? "Just because something is a top priority, don't let it get in the way of things you have to do."