When “a perfect storm” is actually a failure of leadership

A bit of unsolicited advice to business executives trying to explain why their company or their industry is suddenly in the soup:

Please spare us the “perfect storm” metaphor.

It’s hackneyed, for starters. It doesn’t square with the facts. And for people who fancy themselves leaders, it’s downright unbecoming.

The reason the perfect storm is such an appealing metaphor for these shipwrecked captains of industry is that it appears to let them off the hook. After all, who can blame you if the ship goes down in one of those freak, once-in-a-century storms that result when three weather systems collide? It’s an act of nature that nobody could have predicted — or so the story goes. (…)

The first thing to understand about the perfect-storm defense is that these guys actually buy into this nonsense. (…)  The second thing to understand is that, fundamentally, they’re wrong. (…)

What capsized the economy was not a perfect storm but a widespread failure of business leadership — a failure that is only compounded when executives refuse to take responsibility for their misjudgments and apologize.

via Steven Pearlstein at The Washington Post.


Avoiding cliches isn’t rocket science

The top ten most irritating phrases:

1 – At the end of the day

2 – Fairly unique

3 – I personally

4 – At this moment in time

5 – With all due respect

6 – Absolutely

7 – It’s a nightmare

8 – Shouldn’t of

9 – 24/7

10 – It’s not rocket science

The phrases appear in a book called Damp Squid, named after the mistake of confusing a squid with a squib, a type of firework.

The researchers who compiled the list monitor the use of phrases in a database called the Oxford University Corpus, which comprises books, papers, magazines, broadcast, the internet and other sources.

The database alerts them to new words and phrases and can tell them which expressions are disappearing. It also shows how words are being misused.

As well as the above expressions, the book’s author Jeremy Butterfield says that many annoyingly over-used expressions actually began as office lingo, such as 24/7 and “synergy”.

via Telegraph

From criticizing to providing feedback

At one point, people used to “criticize” each other. But then it was too harsh and hurtful to criticize, so instead, people started “giving criticism” to each other. (Notice the shift from a direct to a more indirect voice.) This was still too hard for many, so then we start to “give constructive criticism.” (Note the addition of a positive adjective — lessening the impact of a negative phrase.)But this was too long to say so then we stopped giving constructive criticism and started “to critique” — which has come to mean “high end criticism.” This then gave way to “giving critiques” (note the same pattern of lessening the impact by turning it from a verb into a noun). This one, however, didn’t last, and was quickly replaced by “giving feedback,” which then became “providing feedback” (note give — provide adds an additional syllable: longer words conceal more than smaller words do) — which is where we remain today.

Although we’re still “giving/providing feedback” today, that’s just starting to be replaced by its successor: “providing developmental feedback.” (Note, again, another example of adding a positive adjective to a negative phrase.)

This pattern is more invidious than it seems to be at face value: big words often hide big deeds, and big deeds are more often than not bad deeds. One of the key weapons in fighting the laziness of thought (and all the problems that derive from this) is through clarity in language. (Random thoughts)