Editorial: RIP, synergy!

Editorial: RIP, synergy!

It really irritates me when obvious things — such as the fact that changing cross-media ownership laws would represent a threat to democracy — get dismissed by process-thinkers as conspiracy theories.

Who are the process thinkers, you ask? In most simple terms, these are the people who can’t see the wood for the trees. And the people who use the word ‘synergy’ a lot without really knowing why.

Now here’s what I find irritating about it: these people would not recognise a conspiracy if it hit them in the face with a cricket bat. Because they are so ‘synergetic’, they find it hard to believe that honorable rich men who understand the value (and, for that matter, the meaning) of ‘synergy’ could pose a threat to democracy. Likewise, they would probably not believe me if I told them that, here at ARN, for instance, we have a blacklist. Just because we’re not supposed to have one. And even if this list does exist, that’s OK as long as we openly admit its existence and declare its ‘synergistic’ value. Interesting logic that one.

Anyway, although I realise that the air of mystery is required for blacklists to make sense, the truth is that the synergy between us makes me want you to know about it. So, yes, we do have a blacklist. Wanna know more?

The number one item on our blacklist is ‘synergy’. As you know, ‘synergy’ is a word (aha, so it’s a list of words!), that somehow made its way from the language of medical science into the world of investor relations, marketing and branding texts, executive vocabularies, project management textbooks and even product press releases (go figure!). ‘Synergy’, in fact, is so pervasively ‘synergistic’ that it manages to appear in every piece of communication the purpose of which is to turn communicating parties into 'synergists' (in a medical, rather than in a Christian sense of the word). ‘Synergy’, in other words, is one of those terms that irritate the crap out of us. Because it means nothing. And hides every real piece of information that has some meaning.

It’s been a while since we added new words to the list (which also includes ‘best of breed’, ‘paradigm shifts’ and ‘touch base’), but this week, our conspiratorial ‘purification of language’ efforts suddenly got vindication from very unexpected quarters: Delloite Consulting in the US released a piece of software that sends a similar message to corporate linguists — cut the bull and communicate what you have directly and clearly.

Bullfighter, as Delloite’s new software is called, has been designed to help corporations achieve clarity and transparency in their communication efforts, the company, which admitted to helping foster the era of linguistic synergism, said.

Delloite has already used Bullfighter to analyse the language used by Enron spinners in the period leading to its bankruptcy and found that “it got progressively more obscure as they got deeper and deeper into trouble”. Conspiracy and synergy both come to mind when you think about these guys.

Delloite itself, however, doesn’t find ‘synergy’ as offensive as ‘extensible repository’, for instance. Surely, if there ever was a conspiracy, it has to be hiding behind this pearl! But, in developing the program, the firm’s employees voted ‘leverage’, followed by ‘bandwith’ and ‘touch base’ as the most hated amongst some 10,000 “bullwords” used in corporate speech.

Synergistically speaking, Deloitte employees are not alone in their linguistic predicament. Last week, Sun Microsystems chief researcher, John Gage, told developers working on emerging grid computing standards at the Global Grid Forum in Seattle, that they should not let marketing speech hijack technologies they develop.

“The language really matters, and confusion on language can be really damaging,” Gage said. Citing Sun’s experience with Java as an example, he warned developers about the dangers of hype and cautioned them that grid computing risks becoming a catch-all phrase that promises more than it ever can deliver. So, Gage asked the audience to get back to using clear and comprehensible language.

Gage probably didn’t know it at the time, but Deloitte’s Bull Index shows computer hardware and software companies routinely get the lowest scores for readability and clarity of communication.

As Deloitte’s spokesperson put it: “We’ve had it with repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital and robust, leverageable mind share”. So did the market. And so did we. Thus the blacklist, the bull-fighting software and the suspicious customers/shareholders/employees who don’t understand what the heck you’re on about. It’s time for obscurity to rest in peace. Yours synergistically, Tamara Plakalo.

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