Constant corporate Kool-Aid

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I could never bear to drink so never lived (or died) by the cult of corporate life. But it is certainly a journey, often surreal, when you’re in it. It seems mostly the same everywhere with certain exceptions and differences across cultures. It is a softer place, the Swedish corporate world, than say, America, but it’s no less filled with bureaucracy, blame shifting and euphemism. And much more filled with Swenglish.

The constant back slaps and pats on the head for stuff that people supposedly did or achieved that never actually happened or came to fruition. Yes, hiding behind and getting credit (and subsequent promotions and accolades) for never-implemented ideas that lingered on people’s lips and in countless PowerPoint presentations and Excel-bound plans but never lived a day outside the planning phases. It’s never the results – it’s the planning process that is rewarded.

The constant outflow of talent when actual talent realized they were being indoctrinated into a cult rather than going to a job – and needed to escape. At the big goodbye-speech event (of which there were many), filled with cake and other local pastries, the “lifers” standing around the kitchen making hollow speeches about having had “the really good pleasure of working with” so-and-so, who could always “walk the talk”?!

The constant admonishment from middle management to “prioritize right”, “using our strategy as a filter”. What does that even mean? If they understood the strategy or how strategy works, they would not use it this way, as a fluff-filler to leave their employees to their own devices in figuring out, “What the hell am I meant to prioritize?”

The constant self-praise of the middle manager, proud about the growing size of her team, as if “size is everything” and a vote of confidence in her (non-existent) leadership abilities. No, in fact, if enough competent people leave, and you are one of these lifers, floating along and not making waves, eventually you will secure yourself a relatively senior position based only on seniority. “We have to put her someplace”: A senior position (on paper) that has no teeth, of course, and about which no one actually cares. But a comfortable senior position in a creaking and decrepit old-way-of-doing-business organization, so there are still some perks.

The constant need of every person in every meeting, every department, to chime in with their “reflections”. I don’t know where they got the word “reflect” and its variations, but they have taken it too far. “Reflection” is constant, when what they really ought to say is “thought”, “observation”, “criticism” or even “mental fart”. But no, it’s always, “I reflected and…”, “my reflection is…”, or better yet, to Swedify, “One reflection we all did was…”. No, you don’t DO a reflection.

The constant and classic, in keeping with the self-important need to voice every “reflection”, interrupter. The middle management “leader” who constantly interrupts her “underlings”, because what she has to say is most important (never mind that it’s babble), often to repeat herself, and even well after she seemed to be finished and someone wants to make a point and starts talking, and she interrupts to snap, “Let me finish!”

In finishing, she delivers a speech on how everyone now needs to get to know each other on a personal level in order to process all the organizational changes. Because we don’t know what is going on in another person’s life away from work, or how they handle change or anxiety, we should become friends to ease this process. Poured liberally throughout this touchy-feely talk – references to glasses of wine. “This activity will be fun, especially with a glass of wine.” This of course must be her not-so-hidden “thing”. Drinking. If not wine, the Kool-Aid. Or, in corporate life, perhaps they are one and the same.

Photo (c) 2009 Greg Pye

Laughing at Language

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Whenever exposed to global forms of English (non-native English), I get to hear so much fun stuff.

Examples:

  • Sounds like: “We want to promote lunch excellence”. Should be: “We want to promote launch excellence.” Hey – lunch is important!
  • “Pollinize” rather than “pollinate”
  • “Leverage on” – no need for the “on”
  • “Nitties and gritties” rather than “the nitty gritty”
  • (best of all) “You should be working hardly”

 

Misused Words | J = Y | Don’t Double Down Until You Double Check

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Misuse = Abuse = You Are a Boob

Everyone is brutalizing my beautiful husband, the English language!

How is it that something reads “collegiate” when “collegial” is meant? I know how it happens. You think you heard it or saw it that way and eventually start using it with confidence. And next thing you know you’re throwing your misheard/misused word around all over town. But it’s wrong and could be fixed by just checking and confirming it in a dictionary first. Just to be sure, even if you are sure you’re sure.

I am almost always sure, but I like to double check. (Or, to jump in and use a phrase I hate – and discuss below – Don’t double down until you double check.)

I saw a job ad today that put itself out there as a high-end, exclusive luxury branding manager kind of role. But then in the bulleted highlights, it read: “collegiate environment”. I dunno about you, but if I were going to take on a luxury-goods senior brand management role, I don’t want to feel like I’m back in college – kegger anyone? Which is what “collegiate” means.

In a similar vein, my mom did some work for a writer who wrote the line, “She reached into her brazier” when he actually meant “brassiere”. He was offended when she corrected it. But, pardon the pun, would you rather look like a boob… or actually use the right word for what is essentially… a boob holder?

The Swedish J to Y

It isn’t that Swedes cannot say “J” as in “just” or “judge” or “jet lag”. In some constructions, depending on where the “j” comes in the word they want to say, they say the “dj” sound. In many others they pronounce it “y”. Many Swedes pronounce it “y” always. So it’s “yet lag”, “yust”, “yudge”, “yoy” or “enyoy yourself” – or, as I heard today, “yam” when “jam” was meant. There was some discussion that employed the word “jam” – and it was all I could do not to laugh when people quite earnestly said “yam”. Candied yams all around. I should be used to this now, and for the most part I am. I never so much as flinch when I hear the common words from the mouths of Swenglish speakers every day. But this may well have been the first time I heard “jam” as “yam”.

Doubling Down on Dumb – Vernacular Abuse

I was none too pleased quite some time ago when KFC launched a sandwich called the “Double Down” – it is basically two fried chicken patties in place of the bread that would normally house a sandwich. The media has enjoyed the launch and limited-time relaunch of this “sandwich”, with The New York Daily News going so far as to question what constitutes a sandwich, and The Guardian calling it “controversial”, almost as much as the eating, feasting public likes the (as described) “bunless, protein-rich, fat-filled” concoction.

Double Down on coronary artery disease

Double Down on coronary artery disease

All that aside, and my point for even bringing it up, I am not at all a fan of the term “double down”. I noticed it creeping into everyday language a few years ago (and wrote about it) – especially from the babbling mouths of political pundits, usually criticizing other politicians who had a bad idea and then “doubled down” on the same bad idea. (“Double down” is a gambling term – doubling the bet on whatever one was wagering on.)

Double Down Under” – The Crystal Method

Now, this build up of “doubling down” has finally reached its peak (or given how poorly I think of it, its nadir). I sat in a corporate meeting today and TWO executives mentioned that we will “double down” on some part of the strategy. Can we get a collective Nancy “My life really began when I married my husband” Reagan (that is, “just say no”) here? Once its in the corporate jargon lexicon, it’s past annoying. It’s vomit-worthy.

Likelier to be a Dirty Astronaut: Five Admissions

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It’s the last day of March, and I am not fond of listening to most English accents. I admit it. I have gone from an adolescent anglophile to… well, this person who just does not want to hear it. I like to joke about it and imitate it à la “You don’t know me at all. I don’t need to be drunk to talk dirty.” (Because one of the only words that sounds best in English-English and can really only be taken seriously from the mouth of an English person is “dirty”.) Admission number one.

Admission number two. Watching movies in which a character finds out she is pregnant and then has to tell someone else she is pregnant (especially someone who has a stake in the pregnancy, i.e., the father), sort of freaks me out emotionally. Seeing these reactions – fictional though they may be – the processing that takes place… the characters’ place in life – some wanting a baby, some not at all, some shocked or horrified, not even thinking “baby” is on their life’s radar when it comes into being. Watching these reactions makes me think about how I doubt I will ever have this kind of conversation – and up to this point would not have had this conversation even in the event of pregnancy. It occurs to me right now as sort of sad because I have been determined to go it alone. No illusions, no expectations, no surprises – the hard work would be mine alone.

I think this all hit me the other night when I watched the film Short Term 12. The main character (played by the suddenly-everywhere Brie Larson) discovers she is pregnant and eventually tells her boyfriend. His surprise, initial reaction (which seemed almost as though he was stunned – negatively – gave way to a lot of joy and support), interested me as well. The actor’s face registered such shock and surprise in that moment… the reality dawning on him in just a few seconds – I am not sure I have seen a purer reaction in a film before. (Incidentally, I had never really seen the actor – John Gallagher Jr before except in the often-grating and thankfully almost-over The Newsroom, in which he portrays one of the only likeable characters.) I am, and I say this with a tinge of regret and wistfulness, more likely to become an astronaut than a mother at this point in my life.

Admission number three. I am always – always – too curious about things and particularly about people, which almost never ends well. When someone seems really out there and bizarre, I find that I want to get to the heart of their pathology – or at least their deep-seated irregularities. Several years ago, I briefly talked to/had a few conversations with someone who was, for lack for a better or less repetitive term, way out there and completely fucked-up. His proclivities and perverse predilections (insofar as I knew the extent of them, which, as it turns out, I didn’t. What I knew was only the tip of the iceberg – and not illegal) were so bizarre that it was like watching a building collapse in slow motion. He slowly revealed things about himself that were disturbing and sad – but did not even begin to reflect what would come later, long after I no longer knew him. It was a brief acquaintance that ended almost as soon as it began. But my too-curious mind Googled him after a couple of years and found that he had apparently been arrested for something very serious, tried to commit suicide, was put on house arrest and then disappeared before his court date (or something resembling this chain of events). He thus ended up on his state’s most-wanted list of fugitives. The whole thing was rather shocking but satisfied (or even overly satisfied) my curiosity. Then, the other day, after a couple more years had passed, I looked up his name again to see if he had been captured or if anything new had come to light about the situation… only to learn that he is dead. Apparently he died on the opposite side of the country from where he was a wanted man, using an assumed identity – and died of pneumonia!? From the little I knew of him, he was someone who wanted to die and therefore took all the risks a person can take. I am not surprised to learn that he is dead, but it still rests uneasily in my mind – like what a horrible end. What a horrible life, really.

Admission number four. I have often laughed at Swenglish – the fluent but strange Swedish-English concoction that escapes Swedes’ mouths when they quite ably speak English. One of the things that gets me, much more than the “yoy” rather than “joy” and the “shat” for “chat”, is the tendency to form a “dju” sound at the beginning of words that start with a “u” sound when combined with some other preceding sound. You will thus hear something like, “When we worked in the UK” as “When we worked in the Ju-Kay”. Recently I heard someone say, “The views that we works with” but it sounded like “The Jews that we work with”.

Admission number five. “I love everything about you.