Business jibber-jabber

Lawyers are often blamed for writing badly. It is true that some legal text uses jargon, old-fashioned language, Latinisms, long sentences, and other features that are off-putting to someone who is not steeped in the ways of lawyers.

But we are not unique in this. All groups use in-language. Doctors have their jargon, as do IT professionals, and politicians. IP Draughts has a theory that complaints about professional jargon are often really about control. The complainer wants the other party to use jargon that the complainer understands, or thinks they understand, so as to be in control of the dialogue.

IP Draughts has worked with business executives for decades, and he has noticed how they sometimes mangle language in the interests of conveying subtle, multiple messages. This is particularly noticeable with documents such as mission statements and declarations of future strategy.

He came across this example recently on Twitter, from the CEO of a group that employs over 30,000 people:

Our number one strategic priority remains unchanged: the organic development of increasingly sophisticated information-based analytics and decision tools that deliver enhanced value to our customers.

Surprising as it may seem, this is a condensed, and slightly better-written, version of a statement on the company’s website.

If this statement were a clause in a contract, it would fail several tests that IP Draughts has for contract wording. Most obviously, it tries to cram a large number of ideas into a single sentence.

The core of the strategy could be said in a few words: it is to develop “analytics and decision tools”. Of course, you need to understand the jargon to know what an analytics tool or a decision tool is, or what is the difference between the two.  When you learn that the company’s businesses include publishing technical information, this part becomes a little clearer. We are in the area of information services, including those that make use of software and the internet. As Wikipedia puts it:

Analytics is the discovery, interpretation, and communication of meaningful patterns in data; and the process of applying those patterns towards effective decision making.

The company could be accused of using jargon in using the phrase “analytics and decision tools”, but this is not really the focus of IP Draughts’ criticism. He is more concerned about the many other points that are crammed into the strategy statement. He would paraphrase these as:

  1. They have other strategies, but this is their top one.
  2. They have had this one for some time, so it remains unchanged.
  3. They are going to develop their tools “organically”. Not sure what this means. Gradual enhancement of features rather than buying in new products?
  4. Their products will become “increasingly sophisticated”. Not sure what this means. Adding features to their products? Dropping stuff if it is too simple?
  5. Their tools will be “information based”. IP Draughts assumes that they mean they will continue to focus on products and services in the field of publishing rather than, say, running nuclear power stations.
  6. They will “deliver enhanced value” to their customers. This is a horrible and meaningless expression. It virtue-signals that they are thinking about the customer’s perspective.

It is also noticeable that this strategy focuses on “development” of tools, rather than exploitation of those that they have already. Perhaps the intended reader will take that as read, and will be more interested in the new, sexy stuff that will “deliver enhanced value” to the company’s shareholders.

IP Draughts has no complaint with the sentiments behind this wordy statement of strategy; they are for the board of the company to decide. But as a piece of prose it is dull and nearly unreadable.

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