Saturday, May 30, 2009

My take - Bullshit baffles brains

I’m currently reading Alan Webber’s book “Rules of Thumb.”

Mr Webber is co-founder of Fast Company Magazine and has over 30 years experience of interviewing many leading leadership and management gurus, CEO's and authors in his career.

He says this:

“Some people think they need to “speak business” to prove they belong in business. They think a compulsive use of consulting buzzwords and MBA jargon makes them sound like they’ve learned the secret code. Unfortunately that kind of acronym-laced talk doesn’t demonstrate a business-smart brand; it comes across as “the brand called insecure.” A far better strategy is to know all the right jargon but to translate it into words and ideas that ordinary people can understand”

Amen and thank you Mr Webber - I rest my case for simplicity.


Steve said...

i despise buzzwords and the like. it's annoying and it show to me that those using them may be much more shallow than they'd like others to believe because the buzzwords are just that-words intended to create a buzz and for the less informed they may pass as knowledge but to someone who knows they you suggest trevor....just bullshit.

take care.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Steve - Needless to say I agree with you completely my friend!

Dan Gunter said...

Steve and Trevor,

I go back to one of my favorite quotes from Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"I wouldn't give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I'd give my right arm for the simplicity on the FAR side of complexity."My point here being that some people think that if they don't use the jargon and terminology, you won't see them as credible. And it is true that if I see along the line that THEY don't understand it, I will be concerned about whether or not they are knowledgeable on the subject(s) at hand.

On the other hand, if they want to TRULY IMPRESS ME... show me that you understand the subject and the field. Then, go one step further and avoid the jargon and talk "sensibly" to me. If a situation arises where a technical term or jargon is unavoidable or actually appropriate, use it with at least a brief explanation (without sounding condescending or patronizing about it) and I will not only be convinced and impressed, but I'll also have a hell of a lot more trust and respect for you.

In a nutshell, you'll have my attention and stand a good chance of keeping it.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Dan - you are spot on.

People are very smart - they see through bullshit very quickly in my experience - we under-estimate front line folks at our peril.

Marilyn Jess, DTM said...

Hi Trevor,

I feel so strongly about not using jargon that I wrote a whole chapter on it some years ago in a home study speaking course.

Jargon is poison for speakers. In healthcare, especially, I've noticed that speakers use jargon because they fail to analyze the audience. In other businesses, this may be the same.

A master of the art of simplicity for speakers is Denis Waitley. Get hold of any of his taped programs, and you won't hear buzzwords, unless he clearly defines them.

Buzzwords don't dazzle most of us, they confuse us!

Trevor Gay said...

Hello Marilyn - good to hear from you again. It is good to hear from someone who knows about the art of speaking that jargon is poison. I have always felt that there are managers in healthcare who try to confuse ordinary people by the use of jargon. I am not sure whether these managers realise the front line folks see right through their act and laugh behind their backs.

I feel it is often a form of pretentiousness.

Sounds like Mr Waitley is my kind of man!

tomjam said...

Hi Trevor

Reminds me of that wonderful game called 'Bullshit Bingo' which is recommended to ease the boredom of long, tedious jargon-filled meetings. I am far too professional, serious and dedicated ever to have played it myself of course but 'a friend' recommended this link which even features a special NHS version of the game which will no doubt strike a chord with you Trevor.

P.S. Commiserations for the Barcelona game, but face it you'd be bored if United won everything, wouldn't you?

tomjam said...

P.P.S the Bullshit Bingo link I sent has not come out fully on my published comment so trying again 'cause it's worth it!

tomjam said...

P.P.P.S one last try

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Tomjam – good to hear from you – hope you are keeping well.

I went to the site and had a good laugh – this is the link that works

I recognised all the NHS jargon and can confirm that most of that stuff is used regularly in the NHS by managers - very sad! :-)

Man United ONLY won 4 trophies this season so I mustn’t grumble

Dan Gunter said...

I had to go and find it, but I used to e-mail a reply with a link to the following site whenever I felt someone was simply trying to "impress" with B.S. words instead of actually trying to communicate.

Go to the following link and you'll see what I mean. I think a couple of folks on Tom's site have it marked as a "favorite," if not their "home page" in their browser:

Dan Gunter said...

I shared this story with Trevor already, but I think it worth repeating here.

Intending to be a wise guy, when I was like 12 or 13 years old, I took a simple poem I had written called "Lost Memories" and I sat down with a thesaurus, replacing every single word that I could with the most complex, unheard-of word I could find in the thesaurus. Even the title, which became "Irretrievable Reveries."

I gave a copy of it to one of my teachers to read.

No lie: they were so impressed that they begged me to let them get it published.

I said no. But never told them why.

Even as a preteen or early teen, I knew then that I did not like bullshitters and did not want the poem published for fear of guilt by association.

Dan Gunter said...

Trevor, interesting that you started this dialog talking about Alan Webber. I might copy the recording I have of Tom doing a keynote for Webber and Taylor at a FastCompany celebration so that you can hear it. In this much less structured dialog, Tom really had some fun with it.


Dan Gunter said...

I have an idea, Trevor. We could print out bingo cards like you shared, then use the B.S. phrase generator I shared a link to, and make a good game of it. Maybe we'll host the world's first "Bullshit World Series" ???

Trevor Gay said...

Dan – thanks for all the comments – some quick responses:

• Love the Bullshit World Series idea – we should copyright it quickly :- )

• Alan Webber’s book is great – I am really enjoying it. I am two thirds through it and find it full of gems like the one I quoted. – I like the sound of this man.

• I suggest we have much more sense at 12 or 13 than we do at our grand old age Dan

• Love the bullshit generator – I know a few people I could send that link to letting them know they talk crap.

Dan Gunter said...

LOL. We COULD copyright "Bullshit Bingo" and register the "Bullshit Bingo Game" as a trademark, but we certainly can't claim exclusive rights to the generation of Bullshit in and of itself any more than any nation could cry out for a patent on the "Swine Flu"... B.S. has been a true pandemic for a long, LONG time. In fact, I think it's largely spread on college campuses, incubates during the "learning" period, remains dormant until around graduation time, then shows up full-blown, with all its glorious signs and symptoms upon entering the work world. Must be closely related to "chicken pox" and "shingles." At least they have shots for those now.

If we could invent a "bullshit vaccine," THEN we'd never have to spend another late night working on something for a client. Like "move over Bill Gates... I've come up with something even hotter than Al Gore's internet invention thingy." ;-)

Trevor Gay said...

Dan - hilarious - I now have this image in my head of queues of youngsters going into their management careers anxiously awaiting their 'anti-bullshit' jab :-)

Dan Gunter said...


I checked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and there is no info on any existing "bullshit vaccine" and no statistics on how rampant the spread of "occupational B.S." is.

Maybe I should go to the U.S. Department of Labor's website instead, since we are talking about a work-related strain of the disorder. I wonder if treatment for it would be covered under Workmens' Compensation?

mark jf said...

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buzzwords. They, like other words, are expressions that embody concepts and ideas that are critical to good communication.

What I deplore is poor talk (verbal or written). What I deplore is a) speeches where words are used without substance behind them; b) where words are used to boast that the speaker is on top of the latest fads; c) where words are used in a deliberately confusing or misleading or ambiguous way to avoid true meaning.

Words are like guns: they don't kill people because people kill people. And like guns, they're dangerous in the wrong hands. (Or mouths, to be prcise!)

Dan Gunter said...

Mark JF, dead on the money, my friend. In my years in the health care arena, one of the things I found hardest for newcomers to the field to adjust to was adjusting their language.

When medical professionals communicate with one another, the "lingo" is actually more efficient and more effective in most cases. It is more precise and definitive. When two health care people are talking, there's a lot of difference in saying "The patient's left leg hurts when she straightens it" and saying "The patient is having an acute onset of pain in the left femoral area, exacerbated by extension."

On the other hand, when talking with the patient, family, or other non-medical people, it seems clearer to them to just say the former.

Phrases like "cholecystectomy" often sound confusing and perhaps even frightening to a patient; whereas, the simpler phrase "surgery to remove the stones from your gallbladder" they tend to understand. Some really huge terms such as "transurethral resection of the prostate" can really jolt a patient and their family. And it doesn't help to turn to the acronym "TURP" because telling the patient he is "scheduled for a TURP to follow in the a.m." is totally meaningless to them. Just say "Your prostate surgery is scheduled to be done after the other surgeries in the morning."

It takes a bit more breath and brainpower to speak in non-jargon, admittedly. But it can save a lot of time and frustration by avoiding misunderstandings and concerns that don't come out until later. A lot of people feel embarrassed to say "I don't understand." They shouldn't, but they often do. That's NOT a good thing in any field -- especially health care.

It's a matter of understanding when it's better to use the technical terms and when it's better to speak in "laymen's terms." I think someone mentioned the public speaking idea of "analyzing the audience." That's a fitting description.

On the other hand, the good, old fashioned notion of courtesy and respect ought to at least make us lean in the direction of trying to communicate more clearly, shouldn't it?

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Mark and Dan – I agree Jargon is ok in its place. For example in the healthcare world when used between clinicians. Where I have a problem is when such language is used in the presence of patients or their families - in those situations ordinary every day language can and should be used.

J.KANNAN said...

An excellent and befitting introduction of Mr. Alan Webber-Thank you Trevor.

What Mr. Alan Webber has indicated is by and large true and right that some people do think they have to use buzzwords and jargons which is contrary to necessity.

Its always good as suggested , to translate buzzwords and jargons with simple words of wisdom conveying ideas and concepts that ever one easily grasps and understands.

From the comments from all the stalwarts of "Simplicity" it can be observed and noted that every one is in agreement with Mr. Alan Webber- I too am of the opinion that make impressions in simple way, with bit of humour and lighter veins rather than being serious on issues.

A brief and good presentation with excellent feed back from all my simplicity stalwart friends.


Trevor Gay said...

Hi JK – it seems we have unanimous thought on this matter on Simplicity Blog – so I suggest we all rattle the cage and make sure we remove unnecessary jargon in our own business affairs :- )

Dan Gunter said...

During some "down time" between a shoot and client appointments yesterday, I finally went to Barnes & Noble and picked Webber's book up. I sat outside the bookstore on a bench and took in all but the last 30 pages or so. I have to say that I see why you, Tom, and all who have read the book have given it such glowing reviews: they are well deserved.

I found the "Rules" related to "branding" of the business and personal variety especially well written and very timely.

I wholeheartedly cast my vote in favor of this one, too. I will recommend it to anyone who is involved in business, and to anyone who has to deal with people in general. On the surface (and cover) this book may appear to be a "business" book, but it doesn't take long to realize this is book has much deeper and broader implications and applications.

In short: get it; read it; do it.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Dan- Alan Webber’s book is indeed excellent – I have another 40 pages to read – I am very good at starting books!