Perhaps you’ve seen them too. Big companies that express what they do purely in platitudes that apparently impress business types. I’ve looked at some of their websites and after considerable poking around I can’t conjure even a ghost of an idea of what they do. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we all know what companies like Exxon, Random House, or even Planned Parenthood offer. They have a function—a product or service that you can recognize. Some of these vague large corporations seem to exist simply to exist. And get paid for it. It reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where Lisa asks a corporate executive woman what her company produces and she answers “Synergy.” We see these “centers of excellence” popping up here and there. Excellence in what? Excellence is a quality, not a commodity. Or maybe I think too small.
Someone I know recently changed jobs and I looked up the company she’d switched to. It obviously had money for a slick website and an office in Manhattan. The list of industries it supports as clients was wide and impressive. But what does this company actually do? They spew platitudes. Corporate climbers apparently like this lingo. You’ll never catch me citing “best practices.” Are they trying to imply that the rest of us use worst practices? Do they mean a better way of doing things? Why not say what you mean? I like to play with words. It doesn’t pay very well, but I’m wondering if I’m perhaps missing an opportunity here.
We could form a company that spins out new corporate phrases to make business sorts sound intellectual. We wouldn’t actually need to do anything except attend company meetings about our company and throw out a few phrases likely to become trendy. Maybe hire a publicist to get those phrases going. Surely some company has the money to spend on that. Those of us who actually do peddle words for a living have trouble getting big corporate money. Publishing is a low profit-margin business. But a company that makes you sound intelligent? Priceless. Growing up there seemed to be only a few standard jobs. Of course, I lived in a small town where the options were indeed limited. Each of them, however, had a defined role. You knew what the job entailed. This new company, which will have a vague name, will be in keeping with the times. Who’s with me? Just be sure to bring your checkbook.