This makes for a nice read about the parsing of non-sensical business jargon. Jargon is what business people use to sound smarter, but when you really parse it, it’s meaningless… As a case instructor, I catch MBA students using jargon all the time; unfortunately, 98 percent of the time it is meaningless filler, written in some ‘stream-of-consciousness’ process and not removed by critical proofreading. When spoken, jargon passes through the ears and is lost in the follow up, normally gone forever. Perhaps it leaves the listener with a sense of accomplishment; as if they are smart because they ‘understood’ it. When written, jargon sits on the page and stares at you, like its looking for someplace to call home. Find the original here, at the Financial Times.
May 3, 2015 1:56 pm
In a call to analysts last week, the CEO uttered the following sentence: “As we iterate on the logged out experience and curate topics, events, moments that unfold on the platform, you should absolutely expect us to deliver those experiences across the total audience and that includes logged in users and users in syndication.”
If he were any old CEO this would be merely lowering. However Dick Costolo runs a company that has made a fortune out of saying things snappily. So to hear its top man talk even more windy nonsense than the competition is more than sad. It undermines the brand. It would be like discovering that Christopher Bailey at Burberry secretly bought all his clothes at Primark.
Here, in one interminable sentence, Mr Costolo has come up with a full inventory of the most fashionable ways with flannel. Using 252 characters, he has committed six common crimes against the dictionary, as well as two further grammatical infelicities. The resulting sentence is so tiring that by the time you get to the end of it you are too exhausted to go back and work out what it means.
The first offence is the word “iterate”. In real life this means something mundane — to repeat. I remember doing iterations in maths, and they were not fun. Google made the word cool with its “launch and iterate” edict, and now every company in Silicon Valley and beyond abuses it. Iteration is invoked every time anyone wants to give the idea they are creative and smart, and are working jolly hard.
Mr Costolo’s next weasel word is “experience”, which he is so pleased with he uses it twice. All products and services have long since been rebranded as experiences; yet what is so impressive here is that what he is describing is not an experience at all — but the opposite of one. At this very minute I’m having a Twitter “logged out experience”, as I’m not actually on the site. It’s quite a relief, I can tell you.
His third cliché is the most fashionable of all: to “curate”. This word is fine as a noun to refer to a man of the cloth, and fine as a verb to describe the work of someone of considerable taste who puts on exhibitions in art galleries. It is not fine at all if it refers to an algorithm that selects some banal tweets over others.
It is even less fine if what is being curated are “moments”. These have recently become the trendiest period of time, though by definition they only last for a moment, and so can’t be curated at all.
The fifth crime is committed so frequently, I fear it might soon be legalised. I have often protested that “delivering” should only apply to something that can be put in a van and carried to your door by a chap in a brown coat, but no one has taken any notice. Indeed in business there is no “doing” any more — there is only delivering. Yet, even so, Mr Costolo has distinguished himself by delivering non-logged in experiences, which not only cannot be got in a van, they can’t be understood either. Only David Cameron has played faster and looser with the term — in the latest Conservative party manifesto the prime minister talks of “delivering the longest duty freeze in 20 years” — thus using deliver to mean not doing something, but doing nothing at all.
The final crime is “platform”, which is a horizontal raised surface. It is not Twitter.
Having produced his six rogue nouns and verbs, he then plays fast and loose with the prepositions that go with them. Instead of delivering to, Mr Costolo plumps for the more fashionable but less logical to deliver “across”. Worse still, when it comes to “iterate”, he bizarrely decides that the right preposition is “on”.
Last week I showed the sentence to a young colleague who understands this sort of thing. He looked at it for a while, and then offered the following translation: “We want to make money out of people when they are on Twitter — and when they are not on Twitter.”
At last, here is something I understand. And if I had been an analyst listening to him on the call, it is something I’d have approved of, too.
As a point of comparison I just checked to see how Mr Costolo expresses himself when on his own “platform”, and it turns out he is much more to the point. A recent — and much “favourited” — tweet is just five characters long. “Jake,” it says, and with it comes a photograph of a sleeping dog.
This made me think two things. First, that this moment of cuteness might have worked even better on his rival “platform”, Instagram. And second, that when it comes to getting a message across people prefer actual dogs to metaphorical ones.