There is an economic law that says all markets are cyclical save one: the bullshit market, which knows only the bull phase. In 2011 everything else was in retreat but there were so many entries for my annual jargon awards that sifting through them all has been a long and painful process.
I am happy to say that the judging is now complete and I am able to announce the winners. The first category is one of my favourites: the Sound and Fury Cup, awarded each year to the chief executive who makes a public pronouncement signifying nothing. Alan Mulally of Ford Motor Co. showed great promise with the following purposeful yet content-free statement: “Going forward, we are focused on aggressively managing short-term challenges and opportunities and we remain committed to delivering our mid-decade plan and serving a growing group of Ford customers.”
But the runaway winner is Cisco Systems Inc.’s John Chambers, who managed to be even emptier - and much uglier - in fewer words: “We will accelerate our leadership across our five priorities and compete to win in the core.”
The next award is one much in vogue: the worst euphemism for firing people. This goes to Nokia Corp., which last year announced that 17,000 people were getting the chop or, as it put it, that its operations were being “managed for value.”
The third prize is more specialized: It’s for the most spurious use of percentages over 100 per cent. The former Aussie cricket coach Tim Nielsen hit the ball way beyond the boundary when he said he was “100,000 per cent committed” to Australia being the best team in the world. However, I’ve decided to award the prize to Devin Wenig of eBay Inc. on grounds of quality rather than quantity. He said he was a mere “1,000 per cent committed” to his new job but added an explanation that craftily kept up the mathematical theme. “At this point in my career, a big platform, big brand, and global impact were all part of what I was solving for in prioritizing opportunities.”
His new role, president of global marketplaces business, is not quite clumpy enough to make the hotly contested shortlist for my next prize, worst job title. I was about to give this to an Ernst & Young employee with the title Global Transfer Pricing Go To Market Leader. This supports the law stating that length of job title and importance are inversely related. But then I came across an even longer title that runs to a full 10 words. Dirk Beeuwsaert is GDF Suez’s executive vice-president in charge of the Energy International Business line. The only person known to beat that was Idi Amin.
Now for a sectoral prize, given to the most heroic attempt by a management consultant to overcomplicate matters. I was tempted to give it to the senior partner at a big four firm who told the Financial Times: “The challenge for me is to re-aggregate the big picture, while throwing my arms around as much of the density of complexities as possible, distilling them down to their most basic constituents and plugging them back into the big picture.”
But I decided he needed a holiday more than a prize, so am giving the gong to a consultant at McKinsey & Co. who said: “The assessment was based on international methodology and on ground-truthing.”
Another of my favourite categories is the worst e-mail sign-off, and this year I have a shortlist of five: Toodle pip; All heart; Smiles; To your success; and (following a threatening message) Thanks and Bless. All should have prizes, but as I can only give one, I’m choosing “Smiles,” which is both bogus and contains a baffling use of the plural. How many mouths does the sender have?
Finally, the eagerly awaited 2011 Golden Flannel Award for utter gibberish from a company that should know better. The winner is Manpower Group, for describing itself thus: “Our $22-billion company creates unique time to value through a comprehensive suite of innovative solutions that help clients win in the Human Age.” Which makes me nostalgic for the Jurassic Age because I don’t think dinosaurs had any truck with innovative suites at all.
I should perhaps mention one last winner who was disqualified for conflict of interest. The Martin Lukes award, handed out in honour of the late manager who coined the term creovation, attracted a 2011 shortlist of “humantelligence,” “creatigist” and “worliday,” a cross between work and holiday. I asked various people which they thought most deserving and unanimously they plumped for worliday. One small problem: the person who coined the term – indeed, wrote an entire column about it last summer – was me.
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