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#sowhoknew: From LinkedIn article to published book in 2 years – no bullsh!t

Almost 2 years ago to the day, I wrote an article called “Which Business Bullsh!t Phrases Annoy You The Most” and it went viral. The premise was simple, tell us your most reviled business bullsh!t word or phrase and why you despise it.

And boy did the LinkedIn community know their business idioms – collectively you supplied almost 5,000 of the things.

Initially, Mike Adams (my co-author) and I were going to write a dictionary with all the words in it. But after further thought we decided that was a bit dull, so we hatched a plan to develop a character called Billy Bullsh!t who only ever speaks using business jargon – pop that in your mental microwave and see how it defrosts!

We wrote a book about a year in the life of Billy with 52 vignettes all built around everyday business life: on a conference call, in a brainstorming, running a sales meeting etc. The story follows Billy, who is the Chief Guru of Imagineering of a toy company, who is trying to cover up a failed toy launch whilst also launching a new one so that he can redeem himself in the eyes of his CEO.

The book is called ‘Billy Bullsh!t Talks Business’ and is finished, the cover design was approved by the LinkedIn community a few months ago and there is a pre-order campaign running on Publishizer until the end of August. I’m delighted to say that the pre-orders are selling well and we are talking to 4 publishers to decide who will eventually publish our book – shameless plug, you can order your copy here.

It’s been some journey but what it proves to me is that LinkedIn is a hot bed of creativity and entrepreneurism. The community can inspire and help you live your business dream. They can provide you with help, ideas and advice – you just have to ask.

And for those who are interested, I have recopied the original article from 2 years ago so you can see where the ‘genesis’ of Billy Bullsh!t and maybe that will inspire you to use the LinkedIn community to pressure test your own dream. As Billy might say: “you have nothing to lose, so reach for the stars, knock it out of the ballpark, smash it into the back of the onion bag and become a rock star. Boom! You know it makes sense. Peace out”

Which Business Bullsh!t Phrases Annoy You The Most?

“We can’t boil the ocean by drinking Kool-aid and then circle back when we try to run it up the flagpole.” Absolute nonsense right? So why do we insist on using these irritating, confusing and largely meaningless business phrases when we are conversing with our work colleagues?

Come on, lets be honest, we are all culpable of utilising at least some of these clichéd expressions at work from time-to-time. It does strike me though that their prevalence has been accelerating of late as we appear to be either resurrecting some phrases from the past or (even worse) starting to incorporate language from the digital world into our corporate conversations.

I wrote an article about this very subject back in January this year and was approached by fellow author Mike Adams (check out his book ‘The Intrepid CEO‘) who had a rather splendid idea: let’s write a book about the most despised Business BS phrases along with a brief explanation of their meaning and also (if possible) the derivation of the expression. Then we decided to take the notion one step further. Rather than rely upon our own limited knowledge of these frightful idioms, we came up with the idea to crowdsource as many locutions as we could via LinkedIn.

And that’s where YOU come in. If you want to feature in the book, simply send a LinkedIn message to either myself or Mike with your chosen phrase, an explanation of what it means, the reasons why you loathe it and any information you have about where / how it came into being. If you supply us with an expression which we currently don’t have in our existing list we promise you 3 things:

1. we will guarantee that your phrase will be featured in the book
2. you will get your name acknowledged in the book as a contributor
3. when the book is published, we will send you a free copy

We have already initiated the harvesting process and gathered over 200 of these pesky phrases. In addition, we have also invited various industry icons from a broad cross section of industries to participate. For example, we asked Maarten Albarda (ex Coca Cola and Budweiser marketing guru, co-author of the rather excellent marketing bible ‘Z.E.R.O’ and currently CEO Americas of Flock Associates) to offer up his most hated BS phrases:

“Where do I begin? Oh, I know. ‘New news’. This utter nonsense is usually included in briefings and is used to express that it is not just news to the consumer that we now offer ‘0 per cent financing’ or ‘Chocolate Caramel Flavour’, noooooo, it is NEW news. In other words, we expect the consumer to fall off their chair, sit in shock horror and scratch their heads in disbelief to discover that Chocolate Caramel is
now an option when considering buying ice cream brand X”

You have to admit it, Maarten has a point. So do you get where we are going with this? Inspired to share your most reviled phrase with us? If not, to give you even more of a gist of what we are looking for we have compiled a ‘down ‘n dirty’ list of some of the Business BS phrases which we despise the most…

Limited bandwidth – a hideous example of the current trend for putting digital / IT language into the work environment. Unless your brain has been upgraded to fibre optic broadband then we suggest you don’t use it…

Throw under the bus – a rather unpleasant expression which basically means sacrificing a colleague by allowing them to take the blame for a situation that has gone awry. And I wonder why it’s a bus instead of any other form of vehicular transport? If I am going to be undermined by someone I work with then I would at least prefer to be propelled under the wheels of an Aston Martin DBS

Move the needle – unless you are testing tyre pressures or monitoring a speedometer then please cease and desist using this phrase

Bleeding edge – there was a time, several years ago, when the ‘cutting edge’ was sufficient to describe innovation. Now it seems that isn’t enough and that the cutting edge has to slice through the epidermis and draw blood before it can be considered innovative enough…

Think outside the box – what and where is this box? And why do you need one to think? Here’s a thought… forget about this spurious box and just, err, think?

Ducks in a row – this saying apparently comes from the very early days of bowling before machines reset the pins automatically. Back then you had to manually set the pins which was known as putting your ‘ducks in a row’. So why are we still using this archaic phrase at work? Without the context of the bowling story which may (or may not) give it some credence, it simply makes you sound like a 5 year old

Leverage – one of those truly tiresome examples of where a noun has been misappropriated as a verb. It has been used shamelessly to describe how someone, something or a situation can be controlled or manipulated.

It is what it is – no s**t Sherlock, you don’t say. Talk about stating the obvious.

Take it offline – another sibling of those irksome digital terms (see ‘limited bandwidth’). This one is the modern day equivalent of ‘put it on the back burner’ (another abhorrent saying)

Reach out – basically just means to set up a meeting, call someone or email them. So then why don’t you just say that? If you keep using this, the chances are that people will probably assume you are a fan of the Four Tops

Hard stop – as opposed to a soft one? If you have to leave at a specific time for another appointment, then maybe just explain that

Give it 110% – clearly not possible. Also is 100 per cent not enough? It always makes me think that people weren’t really trying that hard previously and try to compensate for that by effectively saying they will make up for the lack of effort with 10 per cent extra. Or am I just being a tad cynical? Don’t answer that

Cut and dry – only use if you are a hairdresser. That is all.

Low hanging fruit – simply means going for the easy opportunities first. But isn’t that rather obvious? If you are not already exploiting your effortless options then you need to have a quiet word with yourself. Even a child in an orchard can figure that one out.

So how many of these hateful expressions do you use? Full disclosure, I’ve used them all (I feel so ashamed). I am systematically trying to cut them out but find myself lapsing back into their usage on occasion. Maybe I should try harder given that their over usage can have a detrimental affect on your career. According to Darlene Price, President Well Said and author of the book of the same name:

“You need to avoid business jargon and be clear in order to get your point across and be heard. Most clichés were once a fresh, creative way of expressing a popular thought or common idea but because of long, excessive use, each phrase has lost its originality, impact, and even meaning”

There you have it then, our very own personal list of the worst business utterances. So come on then, we have ‘tee’d it up’ for you, why don’t you ‘bite the bullet’ and ‘open the kimono’ to your additional suggestions – we are looking forward to reading your contributions and will let you know asap if you will be featured in the upcoming book.

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.
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