Tag Archives: business consultancy

No kicking, no biting, no gouging

I had such fun yesterday.

I spent it on a training course which included elements of role-play. We were there to improve our facilitation skills and when I explained this to the one I explain these things to he said “oh, chairing meetings”. Mmmm. Not quite. Meetings are for sharing information among people who meet regularly. Workshops – in theory at least – produce “jointly-owned” “outputs” or “work-products”, the hole being greater than some of the parts an’ all that. Facilitation is more like being a referee – you aren’t part of the match but you make sure the match happens and that there is no kicking, no biting, no gouging. You also get to record the score. Not the best analogy I’ve ever written, but I like it for the suppressed violence it implies.

There were seven of us, and we took it in turns to facilitate various mini-workshops. One of my team-mates was there, and he was briefed to be incredibly talkative but know nothing at all. That was fun to facilitate. Of course it was fun. Yes.

Then I got to be the stroppy one, twice. First time round I had to make sure that my (rather irrelevant) point got made, talking over people if necessary. That was a very therapeutic experience. Second time round I didn’t care what happened so long as no-one gave me any more work to do. Being completely irresponsible and giving the nod to stuff that was clearly crap was pretty therapeutic as well.

I wish there were more days that I could go to work and be paid to behave really really badly.

I wish to speakā€¦


Podcast Reviews – 1

iCatA lot of literary ladies here review books. Well I am going to review podcasts and I may continue to do so intermittently.

Let me declare here and now that the podcasts I like fall into four categories: History, IT, Management and occasionally Science. I’m a geekette, and proud of it.

Aphra’s favouritest podcast series ever is Hardcore History from Dan Carlin.

Carlin describes these as “conversations around the water-cooler”; he picks up an historical event or theme, peers at it from all sides, pokes it a bit to see what gives and puts it back so we can re-consider it from a distance. There are some very pedestrian history podcasts out there at least one of which must owe serious royalties to Wikipedia, but Carlin shows everyone else how it should be done. Very strongly recommended if you like to have thoughts provoked, connections made and paradigms subverted. Carlin’s not made that many of them, so I have started listening to his riffs off American politics and finding them almost as compelling.

Another must-listen podcast in Aphra’s car is The Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast

A bunch of likable actors from the West Coast of the US shoot a themed breeze each week on some subject relating to their present and past touring shows. A particular favourite was Let it Snow. Gentle and amusing fun. I’m growing rather fond of them, and will of course go and see them next time they are in the Literary Festival in Little-Wittering-on-the-Wold.

I also enjoy the Business Week Cover Story

These are cheerful interviews between one of the editors of Business Week and whoever wrote the cover story that week. They’ve not made me go out and buy the magazine, but they are interesting, informative and sometimes illuminating.

Alt.text from Wired Magazine is good for a quickie

Running to 5 or 8 minutes or so, one of Wired’s columnists casts a flippant and frequently surreal eye over whatever catches his attention that week. Geeky. Silly. Witty. Worth 8 minutes of anyone’s week.

The National Archives Podcasts

Informative and interesting British history from real live academic historians. The lecturers are specialists and really know their stuff, working from primary sources. The slides they refer to, which one cannot of course see, show original documents. No wikipedia here. So understated it’s cool.

Old English in Context

These are undergraduate lectures from Oxford University which provide background information on the Dark Ages for students studying English Literature. They are detailed, funny and fascinating, and – woo hoo – you and I can listen to them and know we don’t have to write an essay or sit an exam. How bloody jammy is that?

There are several podcasters I am trying out to get a feel for:

Dan Klaas does laid-back essays about whatever strikes his fancy. They are classed as comedy, but I find them thought provoking.

The Cranky Middle Manager seem to have quality interviews on business-related subjects without pretending its aimed at the directors of plcs.

Occasionally the HBR Ideacast has interesting interviews with the authors of academic papers or books, but I overdosed on them early on and now I shake nervously when I hear their theme music.

There was one outstanding podcast from The University of Bath Public Lectures by world-class academics and politicians. These are frustrating because the original lectures were illustrated and the podcasts are audio only. Even so “Dead Sexy – the corpse is the new porn star of popular culture” is an exceptional lecture in an exceptional series.

It’s gotta beat Terry Wogan on the way into work, eh?


I download all my podcasts from i-Tunes. However, it has not escaped my notice that you are going to be looking at this at a PC so the links go to web pages and you can download the podcasts directly and listen to them on your PC. Isn’t that helpful of me?

Black dogs and super-heros

The black dog came around sniffing on Wednesday.

I’ve been working in hero mode for a while now, and I don’t like being a hero. All I want from my job is to be entertained and to be able to pay my mortgage. I don’t want glory or promotion or any of the other testosterone-fuelled hierarchical crap which goes with corporate life. But Aphra has been standing alone against the ravening hoards, fighting them off, and displaying rather a lot of gleaming breast and thigh in the process.

Worse. Not only was I being a hero. I was being trusted to be a hero.

I hate being trusted.

(There’s an aside story here – an acquaintance once said “you do know I can never trust you again, don’t you” to which my silent reply was “good – I never asked to be trusted in the first place”. Please, don’t trust me, I’ll never let you down).

Anyway. Wednesday. There I was. Ravening hoards all around me. Lightsaber in one hand, broadsword in the other. There were even backing singers:

Aph – ah-hah – saviour-of-the-universe

and a scantily clad lovely chirruping

Aph, I love you, but we’ve only got 14 hours to save the universe

Now I don’t know about you, but whenever a scantily clad lovely chirrups “I love you, but we’ve only got 14 hours…” the temptation to make them 14 hours very well spent and let the rest of the universe go hang seems overwhelming.

In my dreams.

So. Aphra the super-hero, with attendant black dog and backing singers.

Fortunately the real super-hero of the piece stepped in and said “there is No Fucking Way that can be done by Tuesday”, so we rebelled and made a stand for sanity.

“Deadlines? Just say ‘no'”.

The thing is, the really truly infuriating thing is, that I still can’t be that voice of sanity for myself in my own life. It always has to be someone else who says it, and the problem was that for the last month or so there’s been me and my imaginary friends and that’s it.

It turns out that the scantily clad lovely has always wanted to be a kennel maid so she’s put on some waterproofs and Sensible Shoes and is taking the dog for a Long Run. The backing singers were just session artists anyway. So I am left – glory be to the goddess – with my entertaining job and my mortgage.

Buzzword Blingo

Why do people express such a hatred of jargon?

Recently the new CEO of the organisation I work for said Strategy is a word I dislike. I hope it is the word he dislikes and not the concept, otherwise the organisation will end up as a case-study in business school textbooks and I’ll end up looking for work.

The main reason for disliking jargon is that one does not understand it. Here is a list of words I can never remember the meaning of, even though I looked them up in Wikipedia to write this, and even though each has been explained to me more than once:

I guess that tells you as much as you need to know about my interests and my pragmatic approach to them.

A second reason for disliking jargon is that the writer may not understand it. Problematic is an excellent example of this. Does the writer mean beset by problems or do they mean improbable and unlikely? An outcome can be certain but beset by problems – the plane’s crash-landing was problematic, or it can just be unlikely – the question of whether Blair will resign gracefully is very problematic. You end up having to decide whether or not you trust the writer to limit themselves to words they actually understand.

It gets doubly frustrating when one is dealing with concepts for which there is currently no single-word synonym, such as meme, ideolect, dystopia and, yes, strategy. I have read more than one rant recently against the use of the word ‘meme’. Yes, it is over-used. Yes, it is often used by people who don’t know what it means. But there is no other word which means the same thing.

There is a third reason for being afraid of jargon: this when words are used so loosely that anyone can use them for just about anything. This can happen with odd and unexpected words such as percent. I’ve previously mentioned my naivete in thinking that 20% should always mean one fifth of the total, instead of turning up decoratively as the second part of the 80/20 rule.

The main danger, though, is when it is used about abstract and fashionable concepts such as post-modernism and democracy. In fact, each of these denotes an overlapping group of concepts, like a venn diagram of glass-rings left on a pub table at the end of an evening of drunken pontificating. This gives rise to confusion: I might mean a consensus process where all involved have the opportunity to contribute to the debate and the final decision is a compromise agreed by all parties; and you might mean whatever it was that went on in Florida in November 2000. These are both valid uses of the word, but they refer to different processes and outcomes and are based on different assumptions.

Dangerously, Christianity and Islam are two other examples of these. You might understand Christian to refer to someone with mental health problems so confusing that they believe they hear the voice of Jesus in their head, and I might use it when talking about my elderly widowed neighbour who organises jumble sales.

It gets worse: Democracy and strategy are unchallengeable sacred cows, they are universal get-out-of-jail-free cards. It is impossible to criticise any positive statement including the word democracy, and it is almost impossible to challenge any positive statement including the word strategy. To do so is like saying that you think seal-clubbing is a worthwhile and pleasant way for a student to spend their gap-year, or that you think the Queen Mother was a vindictive and sanctimonious manipulator. Those are concepts which are so far outside the perceived wisdom as to be oxymorons, and impossible to think. This, of course, is how Bush and Blair got away with invading Iraq – they used words like a strategy for democracy, put the pea under the cup and swizzled the cups around around a bit and when the one in the middle was lifted we discovered that there never were any WMDs and that there are 3000 civilian deaths there each month now.

Finally of course there are words which are just too seductive not to use. My personal list of these includes: methodology, landscape, domain, and paradigm. I’d like to say I use them in an ironic post-modern kind of way, but unfortunately I have no idea what that particular phrase means. Even more unfortunately, I use them as a kind of short-hand, because if I am talking to colleagues it gets my meaning over quickly and effectively. The thing I like the most about paradigm though, is the way it is spelt.

The challenge to us as communicators is to balance the downsides of using jargon: turning people off, confusing them, irritating them and just plain failing to communicate at all, with the upsides of using the one and only word which sums up our meaning elegantly and accurately without recourse to a sentence or so of explanation.

I guess our CEO feels the same way about strategy as I feel about post-modernism and democracy, that these are Humpty-Dumpty words and because they mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, they end up meaning nothing at all.

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You might enjoy fooling around with the following sites. Having spent a couple of hours messing around on them I feel mentally and physically queasy. Entertained, but queasy.

And because only nonsense is nonsense:

Finally, you can lose hours of your life in subversive thought provoking ways here: