With all due respect


October 02, 2018

When I first started working, I remember an assignment where I was sent to interview the upcoming star of Mumbai’s financial world. Perched on the corner of his desk, in a beautiful suit and one brightly striped sock-clad foot on the chair opposite mine, he flashed a big smile and said ‘hey’. “How much cooler could a banker get?” I thought.

He lived up to his reputation as one of the sharpest minds in the industry and just before I said bye and prepared to float away, he said, “Think out of the box, Mohana. That is how you gain strategic advantage. The paradigm shift that’s waiting to happen? You can make it happen. Whenever you want.” And just like that, he went from a cool superhero to my grandfather’s old, musty winter coat.

That was a while ago and if anything, the basket of these supercilious, and completely unnecessary, buzzwords and phrases have grown and been adopted by all and sundry. Why say paradigm shift when all you mean is change? And ‘think out of the box’ has to be the most overused phrase in the world.

What’s this obsession with a box and why does it have to be bad? You don’t necessarily have to jump outside the box to achieve something amazing: Why not just readjust it? Sometimes, I like to picture a horror movie where all the office staff shriek in terror at the sight of empty cardboard boxes taking over every cubicle.

Monetise is another word that gets my goat. I still remember a meeting with an illustrious businessman here who told me that if I didn’t monetise my core competencies, I wouldn’t get anywhere. I did have a job as editor of a business magazine, which paid me money, not fruits and vegetables - so I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. I filed it away, as always, under corporate gobbledygook.

Why say ‘let’s take this offline’? Just say you’ll talk about it later because you are either late for your coffee and doughnuts, or just don’t want to deal with the issue on hand (ever). It’s not like we’re trading government secrets (we’re really not, I promise).

Integrated solutions provider is simply a term that says to me ‘please don’t ask what we do in detail as you wouldn’t be able to understand’. And sometimes I feel they don’t understand what they are really doing either. If Intel said this to me in 1980, I would pause, but not in 2018 when it’s everyone from cement sellers to media companies using it.

Then there are the nouns promoted to the lofty verb category: We will action this immediately. We can leverage this incident to our benefit.

World class. Who isn’t world class, or more accurately, who hesitates to call themselves world class anymore? I can find innumerable little stores from Muttrah to Salalah with signboards proclaiming ‘World class ladies tailor’. Don’t even get me started on everything that’s state-of-the-art, cutting edge and yes, even bleeding edge.

Let me leave you with an excerpt from a mail a co-worker sent many years ago, within a month of gracing us with his B-school halo: “Anyone can get their hands dirty but that’s akin to going for the low-hanging fruit. I suggest the company recognise that my true strength lies in ideating, strategising and optimising opportunities in a flexible environment.”

He left soon after, probably because he couldn’t ideate a strategy to establish himself as a thought leader. And I kept the mail to incentivise myself to steer clear of anyone who says they want to apply synergistic strengths to build a sustainable, scalable model that is in tune with our ecosystem.