Jargon and gobbledygook, it sounds like a title for a Friday night BBC panel show hosted by David Mitchell, but I’m actually referring to what is more commonly known as corporate lingo or if you want to be straight-talking corporate bullsh*t. Just the other day I heard a classic.
‘The best way to boil a frog is slowly.’
Firstly, I’m sure many frogs would disagree with that as a factual statement. Surely if you were a doomed amphibian you’d want your passage to the other side to be quick; flash-frying would be more humane.
But on a semantic level what does it actually mean? When I asked the chap who used the phrase, he answered: ‘it means softly, softly, catchy monkey,’ skilfully replacing one animal cruelty-based proverb with another.
What it means in actual English is ‘for best results, take time’. For word nerds ‘softly, softly, catchy monkey’ originates from the boy scouts, presumably in the days when you could earn a badge for your simian trapping skills. I have no idea where the frog version comes from.
Other current corporate flim-flam favourites include ‘moon on a stick’, meaning unrealistic expectations and ‘jumping the shark’, meaning being behind a trend. This latter one originates from the TV industry where it is used to describe a series that has run its course and is floundering for ideas so desperately it devises outlandish storylines. It comes from the final series of Happy Days in which The Fonz enters a waterskiing competition and jumps over a shark.
Language and the way we use it has a huge bearing on how we are perceived. Lingo, acronyms and corporate bulls**t can create a detached audience. One of the most important aspects of leadership is engaging with your people. Another buzzword, usually accompanied by even more jargon; engagement metrics, critical factors, dialogue facilitation. To achieve these things you need to reframe the language you use.
Using humour, fun and laughter in an appropriate way can be a great way to connect with people, even Forbes recently wrote about why humour is a key to success at work.
So what does engagement mean in a commercial and leadership sense? Engagement means belief in company values. For leadership to engage employees it needs to ask very simple questions. Are they happy, do they like the company they work for and are we helping them do their job to the best of their ability?
You don’t need to dress it up any more than that and by doing so, ironically, you disengage people. Read more about how Laughology is doing this.
Couldn't agree more about corporate bovine excrement (!). IN fact, when I was in the corporate world, there was a time when we would play "Bulsh*t Bingo" during meetings or presentations. There were a couple of different ways, if someone had planned ahead then we would have the words printed off, otherwise it could be the first one to get a flush, that was five bull words in alphabetical order (first word), or just the first one to reach a number, say 6 words. At that point they to had to introduce a topic to the meeting containing the key flag word.
By the way, the frog story comes from the anecdote that a frog placed into a pan of cold water and then brought to the boil will not notice the change, whereas a frog placed into a pan of already boiling water will immediately jump out. The lesson being that often we don't notice the changes going on around us, maybe competitors gaining ground, our services in decline, etc. I think I first came across it in a Brian Tracey book.... though I might be getting mixed up with his other frog story which is to eat the frog first, i.e. when faced with a pile of tasks to do, start with the most unpleasant (eat the frog) and get it out of the way. And if there are two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.
All good fun !