Chris, a loyal MR reader, asks:
Why does the corporate world use language so inefficiently? Why turn a simple thing like "talking to a client about their needs" into a five-step process (distinguished, no doubt, by an acronym)? Do companies think that they create net value when they brand a common thing like human conversation as a one-of-a-kind, complex process – even after the costs of being opaque, jargonistic, and long-winded are taken into account?
I assume that a large proportion of people become cynical at the sound of corporate-speak. Is it reasonable to expect that language in the business world will become more transparent and down-to-earth in the future? Or do you expect that corporate-speak will continue to serve the (perceived) need to brand the commonplace or to affect a marketable expertise – clarity, concision, and common sense be damned?
My speculation: People disagree in corporations, often virulently, or they would disagree if enough real debates were allowed to reach the surface. The use of broad generalities, in rhetoric, masks such potential disagreements and helps maintain corporate order and authority. Since it is hard to oppose fluffy generalities in any very specific way, a common strategy is to stack everyone's opinion or points into an incoherent whole. Disagreement is then less likely to become a focal point within the corporation and warring coalitions are less likely to form.
Many morale-improving corporate practices are precisely what people perceive as somewhat demoralizing, such as fluffy rhetoric, forced socializing, and a somewhat egalitarian bonus structure. Rule of thumb: when you see the demoralizing, start with the premise that it is being done for morale.
Real "straight talk" very often is not compatible with authority, as it breeds conflict. Do political leaders give us much real straight talk? Do CEOs in their public addresses?
When direct financial incentives can work well, such as in sales (bonuses) or in some parts of finance, there is much more straight talk. Disagreement and candor can flourish, because the $$ keep the workers on a common track.
My lunch group has a high level of trust and we are at little risk of a morale breakdown and thus we speak very directly with each other with a minimum of fluff or BS.