Corporate Jargon... it is what it is
31st July 2015
When last did you leverage buy-in to unlock synergies and pick the low-hanging fruit? Did you open the kimono in order to arrive at the optimal solution, or was it all blue sky thinking? At the end of the day, if this paragraph has not assaulted at least one of your senses, you too are a perpetrator of one of the most nerve-grating practices across the piece of the twenty-first century office environment: business speak.
Business speak, or corporate jargon is the jargon often used in large corporations, bureaucracies, and similar workplaces. According to Wikipedia “it may be characterised by sometimes-unwieldy elaborations of common English phrases, acting to conceal the real meaning of what is being said. It is contrasted with plain English.”
Not serious enough to warrant disciplinary action, but definitely annoying enough to cause rifts in the workplace, the most realistic hope of squashing the rise of corporate jargon usage is probably to raise awareness, in the hope of preventing the integration of these phrases into the everyday vocabulary of ordinary employees.
In 2012 Forbes did their bit by setting up a tournament featuring 32 abominable expressions. Each day readers voted on the most annoying word in a matchup of two. The goal? “to identify the single most annoying example of business jargon and thoroughly embarrass all who employ it and any of these other ridiculous expressions.”
Head over to the Forbes “Jargon Madness” website to find out which phrase came out top (or bottom, depending on which way you look at it).
Surveys have shown that business speak is not only annoying, but counter-productive too – even more evidence that this infectious trend needs to be eradicated. And that’s the bottom line.
The Null Hypothesis…one person's trash is another person's treasure
24th July 2015
Do objects have intrinsic value? Why do some works of art sell for £10 and others for £10 million? Why are some shoes more expensive than others if they serve the same basic purpose? In 2006, New York Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker decided to find answers.
He conducted an experiment to test his hypothesis that “narrative transforms insignificant objects into significant ones,” i.e. the value isn’t contained in the objects themselves, but in the story or meaning that the objects represent to the owner.
The method involved the experiment’s curators buying cheap objects from thrift stores and garage sales; true castoffs with little or no intrinsic worth. Participating writers were then paired with objects, and asked to write a fictional story, in any style or voice, about the object. The objects were posted for sale on eBay, with their narratives taking the place of factual descriptions.
The result: $128.74 of “worthless” trinkets were sold for $3,612.51 – that’s around a 2700% increase in value! A $1 jar of mayonnaise sold for $51, for example. So the answer to his question was a resounding yes – giving an item human context and meaning (by attaching it to an original story, in this case) is what makes it valuable in the eye of the buyer.
Next week on the Lighter Side: a moving story about the old appliances gathering dust in my garage (eBay links to follow)…
(Full details about the experiment may be found on the Significant Objects website)
Market highs… when the opiate of the masses was... opium
17th July 2015
China’s drug addiction started off innocently, as they all do, but became powerful enough to launch wars and contribute to the toppling of a dynasty! Opium had been taken orally in limited quantities in China for more than a thousand years to “relieve pain and tension”. Then, in the 17th century, the practice of smoking tobacco spread from North America, and opium smoking soon became popular throughout the country. Opium addiction increased rapidly, and along with it, the demand for importation of the drug from western countries (whose industries grew it cheaply in India).
By 1729 the nation's drug habit had become such a problem that the emperor prohibited the sale and smoking of opium; and, when that didn’t work, opium importation and cultivation were outlawed too. But, where there’s a drug-enforced will, there’s a way, and the opium trade continued to flourish, largely due to the West, which made use of smugglers along the Chinese coast to exchange opium for gold and improve their trade balance with China.
The opium boom was so significant that it eventually caused the balance of payments to run against China in favour of Britain for the first time in the 1830s. But while Britain reaped the benefits, opium addiction in China grew so high that it began to affect the imperial troops and the official classes.
The efforts of the Qing dynasty to enforce the opium restrictions resulted in two armed conflicts between China and the West, known as the Opium Wars, both of which China lost and which resulted in various measures that contributed to the decline of the Qing.
Opium addiction remained a problem in China well into the twentieth century, when it was eventually eradicated by the Chinese communists. Ironically, it was the famous communist thinker, Karl Marx, who declared that “Religion is the opiate of the masses”; a metaphor that might have been lost on the opium-hooked masses of his Chinese counterparts.
Fallacy... when everything you (think you) know is wrong
10th July 2015
In mathematics, certain kinds of mistakes are illustrations of the concept of mathematical fallacy, specifically in the proof of equations. The difference between a simple mistake and a mathematical fallacy is that in mathematical fallacies, there is some concealment in the presentation of the proof. For example, the reason the proof may be invalid is a division by zero that is hidden by algebraic notation. There is an overarching characteristic of the mathematical fallacy: typically, it leads not only to an absurd result, but does so in a crafty way. Although the proofs are flawed, the errors are quite subtle, or designed to show that certain steps are conditional, and should not be applied in the cases that are the exceptions to the rules. This makes them a useful device not only in an educational setting, but also during the conversational lulls at dinner parties…
For example, can you prove, or indeed, disprove, that 1 = -1
In case you didn't get it, the fallacy here is that is generally only valid if both x and y are positive, which is not the case here. Now next time you find yourself suffering through an awkward silence, you can impress those around you with this little piece of mathematical trivia!
Compound growth… ‘penny stocks’ as you've never seen them
3rd July 2015
In 2012 a one cent copper coin from the earliest days of the US Mint sold for a record $1.38 million at a Florida auction.
The coin was made at the Mint in Philadelphia in 1793, the first year that the US made its own coins. What added to the coin’s value was its (ahem) mint condition – neither the image of Lady Liberty on the face, nor the chain of linking rings on the back, nor the lettering showed any signs of wear.
But is this apparently astronomic price really so amazing? What would have happened if that coin had been invested in the stock market for the 219 years between 1793 and 2012? What annual rate of return would need to be achieved to warrant the 2012 value of $1.38 million? A simple Goal Seek exercise reveals a solution of just under 9%, which, conveniently, is not out of line with what stocks have produced historically.
Something to think about the next time you walk past a discarded coin on the ground…penny for your thoughts?