Dank! Schwaggy! 18,000-foot-view! In elementary

Dank! Schwaggy! 18,000-foot-view!

In elementary school, I went to Deerfoot Lodge, a summer camp in upstate New York. It was a great summer camp, with all the standard trappings: fights for the individual boxes of Froot Loops in the morning (losers were stuck with Special K), plaster casts of deer tracks, and stories about the freshwater sharks that had evolved deep in the underwater limestone caves of bottomless Lake Speculator. For some reason, the camp had embraced the 50s slang terms “Boss” and “Beek”, for good and bad, respectively. “Hey! That’s a boss moccasin you made there!” “They found the Playboy under your bunk? Beek!” Peer pressure ensured that every camper was using the terms like a native an hour after getting off the bus. It took longer to get cured of the terms when you got back: sometimes, I’d still be getting funny looks from my seventh-grade classmates in late September. “No algebra homework? Boss! Uh, I mean…”

The same summer-camp peer pressure still applies in the consulting world, which I don’t suppose is a surprise to anyone. There’s a lot of articles circulating about the danger of buzzwords, and it’s not very mysterious why they’re used: the industry is evolving, using the accepted phrase makes you feel like you know what you’re talking about, and everyone wants to be like the cool kids. Parallel path, y’all!

Having spent a few years, now, watching both good and bad consultants at work, it seems to me that good consultants sell experience, while bad consultants sell the opportunity to find out what the hell they were talking about in the pitch meeting. In that context, a flood of buzzwords can be a bad consultant’s best friend. Especially since, in any meeting, there’s only one or two people senior enough to ask the “dumb question”: “Excuse me, what the hell are you talking about?” I don’t know, though: it seems to me that the consultant who makes the client feel smart will get the business, while the consultant who makes the client feel dumb gets avoided.

Most buzzwords are used internally, though, as a kind of shorthand. Now that I’m spending my days at [My employer] but working with Bain, I’ve got a foot in two different summer camps’ worth of buzzwords at the same time. It’s surprising how similar they are: I say “Parallel path”, you say “Parallel process.” Critical path, critical stream, 10-000-foot view, 30-000 foot view, let’s call the whole thing off.

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