Most people don’t realise that business clichés don’t just happen; they’re purposefully invented by people such as Vern Hackular, senior vice-president of development for Dissembling Associates, widely regarded as the world’s largest developer of babble. Danbom interviewed Hackular in the firm’s New York office.
Danbom: Thank you for your time this morning.
Hackular: Not a problem.
Danbom: Jargon, clichés and other verbal shorthand are as much a staple of business as, well, staples. Some people can complete entire careers without ever having to say anything even remotely original. Do you think the time will ever come when this won’t be the case?
Hackular: Not on my watch.
Danbom: Anthropologists discovered a remote management consulting firm in California that did not have a single recorded instance of uttering of anything other than buzzwords for more than four years, during which time their business grew by 230 per cent.
The conclusion was that it is possible for someone to survive and even thrive in business just by using a list of phrases and never having to say anything that wasn’t hackneyed or have an original thought. Don’t you find that depressing?
Hackular: Don’t even think about it.
Through the round window
Danbom: Well, actually I do think about it. Isn’t it true that words are a window to our intellect?
Hackular: A window of opportunity?
Danbom: No. A window in the sense that words are the verbalised representations of our thoughts. If you can’t speak intelligently, it means you can’t think intelligently. If the only words we use are clichés – that are by definition, trite, stereotyped expressions of a common idea that has lost originality, ingenuity and impact through long overuse – doesn’t that signal an inability to think?
Hackular: It is what it is.
Danbom: No, really – doesn’t it ever bother you or your staff of language-pummelers that the clichés they’re developing help to reduce thinking to a kind of jukebox of handy responses that are essentially meaningless? Like “it is what it is”. Is that supposed to be profound? I know you were very proud to have coined “at the end of the day”, “get my arms around it” and “all our ducks in a row” but doesn’t it bother you that you’re turning language into a communicable disease?
Hackular: It’s not even on our radar.
Danbom: How do you describe your business to others?
Hackular: Our value proposition is to be incomprehensibility-centric.
Danbom: Which means…?
Hackular: Core competency.
Sense of power
Danbom: I read something that surprised me in a profile of your company in the June 2005 issue of No Brainer magazine. Your only clients are, as you put it, ‘C-level’ executives who seem to find that spouting your phrases imbue them with a power and hipness that they otherwise would lack.
It turns out that most of the buzzwords you create are written by people recruited primarily from advertising, consulting, IT and sports. I can understand how people from IT, “push the envelope” and how people from advertising, “think outside the box” but what do people from consulting do?
Hackular: They raise the bar.
Danbom: And the people from sports?
Hackular: They do the heavy lifting.
Danbom: You’re amazing. I know you must make a lot of money coming up with this rubbish but how do you live with yourself?
Hackular: Do the math.
Danbom: Great. Well I can see that it won’t do me any good to talk to you any further. I’ll leave now. What should I do with my parking stub?
Hackular: I can validate that.
Hackular: You’re good to go.