independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Declan Lynch: Obtuse corporate lexicon is keeping us all in the dark

Executive-speak is so infectious that even good people can't stop themselves using it

WHAT is granularity? I confess that I did not know that word until I saw it in Shane Ross's column last week.



He was describing the appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of John Corrigan and his team from the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), a performance that seemed to be going quite well for Corrigan as he spoke of wondrous things such as "amortising bonds, treasury bills and sovereign annuities" – you mightn't know much about them either, but at least you've probably heard all the words somewhere before. Apart from maybe "amortising".

And so the performance continued in this sparkling vein, until chairman John McGuinness asked Mr Corrigan about his own massive remuneration – €416,000 a year – and that of his colleagues. At which point Mr Corrigan, apparently unprepared for such vulgarity, reached for the "granularity".

As Ross described it, Corrigan refused to tell the PAC how much a certain Eileen Fitzpatrick, chief executive of New ERA, a subsidiary of NTMA, is paid, because he was "not required to do so" under the Act. He said he had given "huge granularity" in response to McGuinness's questions about pay scales.

Not only had I never heard of granularity before, I confess that it took me half the day to even guess what it might be, which is

instructive in itself – you may note my instinctive use of the words "I confess", indicating some guilt on my part that somehow I was absent from the corporate bullshit lessons on the day they were giving out the granularity.

This is how it works – not only are you being bullshitted, it is you and not the perpetrator who feels embarrassed about it. It's like that current radio ad for one of the banks, in which the voice explains in warm, sympathetic tones that "you feel the banks aren't lending".

So the notion that the banks aren't lending is only something that "you feel".

It is an emotional, and therefore an irrational response on your part, a mere "feeling" that is not necessarily grounded in the truth. But deluded as you may be, the man with the sympathetic voice will not abandon you – no, he will forgive you. Again, it is the victim of the bullshit who feels bad.

I now realise that granularity is "the extent to which a system is broken down into small parts". So instead of John Corrigan talking about "huge granularity", he might simply have said "great detail" and everyone would have understood. Ah, but what would be the point of that?

Personally I found it humbling, because I really thought I was keeping up with these guys. It was I, after all, who first wrote about the "going forward" virus – at a time when hardly anyone else working in the field had even noticed it, I was warning that it was already out of control.

Today it has infected the global consciousness to such an extent, even good people can't stop themselves saying it – a journalist friend of mine, who has asked not to be named, found himself using it by mistake recently on live radio, causing him to fall into a spiral of shame. His only consolation is that he has also heard Arsene Wenger using it.

And by the way, here's another one that is out of control – "sustainability". It used to be a word associated with solar energy and cars powered only by manure, and other such progressive concepts put out there by men such as Duncan Stewart. Now it has been seized by the corporate class, who are excited by its value as a sort of a verbal Valium, lending a strangely pleasing note to the message that they've just sacked 2,000 people – "we need to make these adjustments in the interest of sustainabilty and in the context of profitability going forward..."

It makes it sound like they're doing it to save the world. Indeed, I would now state confidently that anyone using the word "sustainable", or any variation thereof, is up to no good.

So I have been diligent in tracking these developments, and yet always they seem to be growing and mutating into new areas.

And because the corporate class is the ruling class, you can hear echoes of it everywhere.

On RTE's The Frontline last Monday, I heard for the first time the word "suicidality". Until then, I had been under the impression that "being suicidal" was doing that particular job perfectly well, if not better than "suicidality". But no, somebody wanted to move the dial on that one.

Move the dial... that was recently heard at a press conference at Chelsea FC, reminding us that football itself has fallen to these forces and there may be no way back – not only did Arsene Wenger say "going forward", at Tottenham there is the technocrat Andre Villas-Boas, described by Barney Ronay in The Guardian as sounding like "a very intelligent robot reading segments from a personal improvement manual".

Villas-Boas says he wants to "incentivate choice making". This would be a mutation of "incentivise", the corporate word for the practice whereby people who are already grotesquely overpaid are paid more. Which is where all this is leading eventually.

They know what they're doing, with their bullshit, establishing that distance between the executive "talent" on the stage, and the multitudes – that would be all of us, sitting out there in the dark.

Sunday Independent

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