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Use and Abuses of Jargon

Use and Abuses of Jargon

In “Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language,” Don Watson shows how business BS-speak is invading everything from public schools to churches. An article in Newsweek magazine called “Attack of the Weasel Words,” includes and interview with the author. In it, Watson says:

“We are all customers. Even the CIA talks about having internal clients. I’m quite sure that in another iteration, the Army will talk about enemy clients. Once they decide we’re all customers then the consequences for basic relationships in civil society are not good. I think the old civilities will do, and I don’t know why we all have to be customers, let alone valued customers. It’s even gotten into religion. St. Martin-in-the-Fields [the Anglican church] in London now has a two-point mission statement out front on the wall. Their first point is the duty to God and Christian charity and the second is to provide excellence in hospitality. For [centuries] they’ve been doing charity and now it’s “excellence in hospitality.”

Watson believes people have decided to live in an economy, not a society, and this vague, overblown language has become so commonplace in people’s professional lives they bring it home with them too.

Jargon is addictive. It’s also useful and harmless in its place. That place is among people who share a defined skill or expertise. Within skilled or professional groupings from doctors to plumbers, jargon is a sensible way to discuss things that apply to their sphere of knowledge. Where you can’t explain what you mean succinctly in ordinary language, a special term everyone within that grouping understands becomes essential. As far back as Biblical shepherds and beyond, special terms like “wethers” (castrated male sheep) have been used and accepted. If a doctor speaks to another medic about vasodilation, both know exactly what’s meant.

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The problem we suffer from today, in business and elsewhere, is the use of jargon and consulting BS by people who neither know what they mean precisely, nor expect those they’re speaking to understand them. Indeed, that’s often the point: to use language that you hope makes you sound like an expert before a non-expert audience. It’s become associated with business consultants because so many of that breed pretend to knowledge they don’t have. It’s known as “keeping one step ahead of the client.” As long as you know a fraction more than your client, you’re the expert.

Politics, with its “spin doctors” and PR spokespeople, is another prime source of the spreading tendency to use language to disguise or confuse. So is the need for politicians to hide lazy thinking or addiction to special interests. Since the media are drenched in pundits pretending to knowledge and politicians trying to sound good, while saying nothing dangerous, it’s hardly surprising business-speak and consulting BS is spreading like a pandemic.

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The answer lies in your hands and mine. If we refuse to accept weasel words from others and insist on saying what we mean in plain terms, even marketers (some of the worst offenders) will stop drenching us in BS. It’s because they think consumers are taken in by meaningless claims to be “customer-centric” or “quality driven” that they use these terms. Talk is cheaper than doing anything to improve quality or service. It’s time we made it clear that we’re expensive, and the currency they must use to buy our attention isn’t management-speak or BS. It’s honest, understandable language backed up by clear action.

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his thoughts most days at The Coyote Within and Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the fun and satisfaction to management work.

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Last Updated on October 9, 2018

How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

Most of you made personal, one sentence resolutions like “I want to lose weight” or “I vow to go back to school.” It is a tradition to start the New Year with things you want to achieve, but under the influence resolutions are often unrealistic.

If you’re wondering when will be a good time to write a mission statement, NOW is the time to take a personal inventory to make this year your most productive year ever. You may be asking yourself, “How am I going to do that?” You, my friends, are going to write personal mission statements.

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A large number of corporations use mission statements to define the purpose of the company’s existence. Sony wants to “become the company most known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products” and 3M wants “to solve unsolved problems innovatively”. A personal mission statement is different than a corporate mission statement, but the fundamentals are the same.

So why do you need one? A personal statement will help you identify your core values and beliefs in one fluid tapestry of content that you can read anytime and anywhere to stay on task toward success.

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For example, Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire came to the realization that he had lost track of what was important to him. After writing a personal mission statement, we saw him start his own business and he got the girl, Renee Zelleweger. Not bad, wouldn’t you say? A personal mission statement will make sure that, through all the texting, emailing and constant bombardment of on-the-go activity, you won’t lose sight of what is most important to you.

Mission statements can be simple and concise while others are longer and filled with detail. The length of your personal mission statement will not be determined until you follow this simple equation to create your motivational springboard for 2008.

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To begin your internal cleansing, you will need to jot down the required information in the following five steps:

  1. What are your values? Values steer your actions and determine where you spend time, energy, and most importantly, money. Be specific and unique to yourself. Too much generalization will not be as effective. It is called a “personal” mission statement for a reason.
  2. What are three important goals you hope to achieve this year? Keep your list of important goals small and give them a date. It is better to focus on the horizon and not the stars. Realistic goals are keys to ultimate success.
  3. What image do you hope to project to yourself? How you see yourself is how the world will view you. Think about this carefully. Your image should encompass what you look like and feel after you have achieved your goals.
  4. Write down action statements from each value describing how you will use those values to achieve your three goals. Start with “I will…”
  5. Rewrite your statement to include only your action statements. Make portable copies for your wallet, car or office.

If you followed the steps above, congratulations! You have just written your first personal mission statement. Your personal statement will change over the years as your goals change. You can have more than one statement for the different compartments of your life such as your career, family, marriage, etc.

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Writing a personal mission statement is an effective method to ensure your productivity is at its peak. It is an ideal tradition to start so that when next year rolls around, the outdated practice of resolutions will be something you permanently left in the past.

Featured photo credit: Álvaro Serrano via unsplash.com

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