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Cliché of the Day: Stick to Your Guns

March 18, 2018

Today’s advocates and opponents of gun control are likely to “stick to their guns” and continue believing what they believe.

We don’t know where this expression originated, but the idea of sticking to guns is a pretty odd concept. Are you sticking with Velcro? Gorilla Glue? Fly paper? It’s also not clear whether you can stick if you have only one gun. And what if you accidentally stick to a rifle or a crossbow?

Let’s bite the bullet and do away with gunstickingtoitiveness.

The Ecosystem of Environmental Metaphors

February 26, 2018

The hot air produced by eco-babbling consultants, activists and corporate executives has likely depleted more carbon than all of Chinese industry.

Use of environmental metaphors does not make a company environmentally friendly, green or sustainable, but, as the Paris Accord demonstrated, talking about the environment without actually doing anything can boost your image.

Remember Enron? The company was talking green and fuzzy in a big way just before it imploded.

Among the most-abused environmental terms are “ecosystem,” “ecology” and the term “environment” itself. Blame these environmental metaphors on consultant James F. Moore, who won a McKinsey Award for his 1993 article in Harvard Business Review, “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition.”

If you consider the workplace to be part of an ecosystem of living organisms, formerly known as employees, you should find work as a consultant. Who else would consider your cubicle to be part of an ecosystem?

Environmentalism has also the latest generation of efficiency experts, as businesses have stopped trying to be efficient and are instead seeking to be “sustainable.”

“Sustainable” business practices may be beneficial, reducing both waste and environmental damage, but the only way for a business to be truly sustainable is to unplug every machine and prevent employees from breathing.

Let’s continue to make businesses more efficient while reducing their impact on the environment, but the environmental metaphors are no longer sustainable.

Abused Words of the Day: Change Agent

February 23, 2018

A change agent, unlike a real estate agent, insurance agent or secret agent, exists because nothing can ever stay the same. 

A “change agent” must have “vision” and be a “thought leader.” You wouldn’t want a blind change agent or one who is a thought follower. 

If your company needs a change agent, be certain to find one who doesn’t change whatever is working in your business, but who instead focuses on areas where change is needed. Be certain, too, that you have a change-for-the-better agent, not a change-for-the-sake-of-change agent.

If you hire the wrong change agent, you may have to change change agents.

Writing Tips

February 20, 2018

Surveys consistently show that the ability to communicate well is the skill employers value most. Today, most communication is written, so time spent improving your writing is time spent well. 

In this podcast for the Engineering Management Institute with founder Anthony Fasano, I share a few tips that should help. http://bit.ly/TECCEp169

Don't Vote

November 4, 2018

This year, more than most, it’s been difficult to avoid the “get out the vote” social media posts.

The right to vote is among our most important privileges. It should be exercised by anyone who is mature and informed enough to want to exercise it.

But no one should be coerced to vote. People who are uninformed should not vote. People who are undecided should not vote. People who don’t care should not vote. People who have to be told to vote, shouldn’t vote.

Don’t vote if you don’t know who or what you’re voting for.

The Enemy of the People

August 21, 2018

Apparently, it’s OK for the media to attack President Trump, but not for President Trump to attack the media.

That’s the conclusion easily drawn from the recent editorial snit by The Boston Globe, which in a journalistic “Kumbaya” convinced 400 newspapers to join in a gang shellacking of President Trump for accusing the media of being “the enemy of the people.” It is Trump who is the true enemy of the people, if we’re to believe what they published.

The Globe’s editorial — pompous, self-serving and pretentious — calls President Trump a liar and a charlatan, implies that he’s a tax cheat and notes that his “suspicious pattern of behavior” triggered an investigation by an independent counsel … who, by the way, has turned up virtually nothing despite an investigation that’s lasted more than 15 months.

It even seeks to compare President Trump with “21st-century authoritarians like Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.” Authoritarians seek government control over their citizens. President Trump has been overturning the record number of new regulations created by the Obama administration. So how is he authoritarian?

President Trump is often rightly criticized for acting unpresidential. His tweets are frequently inaccurate, vulgar and bullying. But it’s hypocritical for The Globe and other American media to attack the president relentlessly and then to criticize his “relentless attack” on the media. When The Globe accuses the president of “stoking domestic division for political and personal gain,” isn’t The Globe doing the same thing?

Under President Trump, the economy is growing at 3% again, the unemployment rate is so low there are more job openings than there are people applying for jobs, ISIS is on the run and Americans being held captive by rogue regimes are being released.

And yet more than 90% of media coverage of the president is negative.

State-Run Media

Early on, The Globe suggests that, “Replacing a free media with a state-run media has always been a first order of business for any corrupt regime taking over a country.” It’s an odd point to make, given that President Trump has never suggested that the media should be run by the government.

Conversely, consider the liberal outcry that takes place anytime anyone suggests eliminating federal funding of National Public Radio. Or look to New Jersey, where the liberal Free Press Action Fund sought $100 million from the legislature to keep the state’s media afloat. It received $5 million, in spite of the state’s fiscal problems.

The Globe editorial expresses shock that two recent polls show, respectively, that 48% and 51% of Republicans believe the news media is “the enemy of the American people.” Does The Globe think that’s Donald Trump’s fault?

You would think that the results from these polls and other growing evidence of media bias would cause a bit of self-reflection. Whatever your political beliefs, we would all be better served if media were publishing news that is fair, balanced and objective. And yet the daily onslaught of negative news about Trump tweets, Russian interference with our election, his relationship with Stormy Daniels and just about everything else continues.

The media is not “the enemy of the people,” but neither is President Trump.

Abused Word of the Day: They

February 16, 2018

One person cannot be a “they.” A business or an organization cannot be a “they.” Yet they are regularly expanding the use of “they.”

We’ve all become squeamish about the pronoun “he,” but substituting “they” when you’re writing about one person is absurd. It beats he/she, but it’s best to make the subject plural whenever possible, so that “they” can be used.

He is not a “they,” she is not a “they” and your company or the organization you work for is not a “they.” It’s not even a person. It’s an “it.” Don’t write, “Banana Corporation announced that they are introducing a new version of the popular y-phone.” Write, “Banana Corporation announced that it is introducing a new version of the popular y-phone.”

There’s also “they say,” in which “they” is never defined. When someone says, “They say that salt is bad for you,” that person lacks credibility, because it’s not clear who “they” is. You know what they say: only use “they” when referring to more than one person and be sure to identify who they are first.

Abused Word of the Day: Fascist

February 12, 2018

Today, those who call others “fascists” often have more in common with fascists than the people they’re criticizing.

The word “fascist” comes from the Italian word “fascio,” meaning “group” or “bundle,” because under fascism, the emphasis is on the group with few individual rights. A fascist believes in a strong central government and has no tolerance for opposing opinions.

That sounds a lot like Antifa, the antifascist organization.

You may dislike President Trump, but that doesn’t make him a fascist. In fact, President Obama came closer to being a fascist, as he greatly expanded the role of government and set a record for adding new regulations, frequently without seeking Congressional approval.

When President Obama took office, the U.S. ranked fifth on the Index for Economic Freedom. After eight years of increasing government control through the most excessive regulation in the country’s history, the U.S. ranked 17th. In contrast, President Trump has been deregulating.

Fascism typically evolves from socialism or communism. As Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote, “Fascism is the stage reached after communism has proved an illusion.” Nazism, likewise, evolved from socialism. Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom, was written as a warning to the United States and the United Kingdom, which were becoming increasingly socialistic.

Keep that in mind the next time you think about calling someone who disagrees with you a fascist.

Abused Words of the Day: Touch Base.

February 5, 2018

I’m not sure where the “base” is, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere near the box that everyone is thinking outside of.

Depending on whose base you’re touching, and where that base is located, you can get in trouble for touching base in today’s workplace. Trying calling or emailing instead.

To “touch base” is to “talk to someone for a short time to find out how they are or what they think about something,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. We’re not sure at what point “short time” becomes “long time” and touching base becomes something else entirely.

This overused construction was recently named the most loathed example of “management-speak” in a British survey of 2,000 people. Apparently, “It is what it is” hasn’t hit Great Britain yet.

Cliché of the Day: Push the Envelope

February 1, 2018

Why would anyone push an envelope? What has the envelope ever done to you? Why not pull the envelope and push your weight? 

“Push the envelope is yet another cliché promoting violence, although it’s not as aggressive as throwing someone under the bus.

You may be surprised to learn that the “envelope” in this case isn’t made of paper. According to The Phrase Finder, “The envelope here isn’t the container for letters, but the mathematical envelope, which is defined as ‘the locus of the ultimate intersections of consecutive curves’. In a two-dimensional example, the set of lines described by the various positions of a ladder sliding down a wall forms an envelope - in this case an arc, gently curving away from the intersection of the wall and floor. Inside that envelope you will be hit by the ladder; outside you won’t.” 

Does that clear things up for you? Me neither. Math was my best subject growing up, but that was a long time ago. 

Envelopes, whether they’re containers for letters or loci of ultimate intersections of consecutive curves, should not be pushed without just cause.