Corporate wank terms analysed

A running log of corporate speak I come across in the day job.

Some workplace non-language spotted, explained and laid to rest.

Also a great source of bullshit bingo clues:

Thought leadership
Agree to disagree
'A conversation'


Usage: "We need to maintain optionality on the issue of which platform will serve us best".

What they think it means: Maintaining a state where choices can be made later when more is understood about an issue or problem.

Analysis: This is one of those words that one person brings into the workplace from another workplace and suddenly everyone starts using it because it sounds a bit clever, why have boring old choice when you can have some zingy optionality? This word is a 'we belong to the pack of clever managerial people' signifier.

Plain english equivalent: Choice or choices. Even plain 'options'.


Usage: "We need to get resource to achieve that goal."

What they think it means: Polite way of referring to people and the work they do.

Analysis: Reinforces the objective and rational side of the managerial craft and makes you look like a bit of a tough customer. Downside is it also makes you look like a bit of a monster.

Humane english: We need some people to do this work.

Thought leadership

What they think it means - showing that you or your team are really up to date and have a coherent and completely infallible way to looking to the future of the organisation.

Usage: "We need to show thought leadership on this." "I am a thgought leader on [current hyped topic]".

Analysis: This one has a few things going on.

  1. Tries to turn what is essentially a guess (all futurism is guessing*) into a static state of knowledge and a skillset (so that can be posted as such on Linkedin).
  2. Operates as a set of sharp elbows to make sure that other people know what your patch is.
  3. Self-aggrandising CV booster. 'I am a thought leader in AI'. You're probably not, you are almost certainly a thought follower.
  4. A viable career according to people who have already made a viable career of it (eg part of the great Ponzi scheme of careerism).
  5. 99% cover for inherited or group think - thought leadership is not actually thinking or research it is showing that you are able to articulate someone else's idea.

*I don't actually have a problem with guessing if it is acknowledged. Guessing is also the basis for great fiction and design, but only if it is not presented as certainty.

Plain english: use 'our thinking' or more honestly 'our current best and informed guess' or even 'we need to do this because everyone else will f*ck it up'.

Agree to disagree

Usage: "I think we will have to agree to disagree on that one."

What they think it means: We are adults who can see that there are always alternative ways forward and sometimes we just have to get on.

Analysis: Basically this is My way or the highway.

It's a pure power play by someone higher up the food chain and has nothing to do with agreeing. The others in the conversation only acquiesce because they think that it will fail and hang the boss. This only works when power distribution is equal (and power distribution is never equal).

Humane english: I think my way is correct and it's my job to make that decision.


Usage: Are we aligned? Do we need to align? Do we need to build our alignment?

What they think it means: Alignment seems far more rational that simple agreeing because it stresses the rational directed element - it sounds like it will actually help you move along the path of progress.

Why don't we call it agreeing? Because agreeing is too human and seems somehow less managerial that aligning.

Human english: Do we agree?

A conversation

Usage: "We need to have a conversation about that" or (aggressive) "We need to have an adult conversation about that."

What they think it means:

  1. It is a good idea to frame an 'ask' as something in which you have no actual choice or say by calling it a conversation.
  2. I want to talk to you about something important I want to do and want to show that I value your opinion but I still want you to do what I want.

What it actually means:

  1. You just have to do this. The 'conversation' is a download of my requirements of you
  2. We are going to communicate in corporate terms and jargon about something that I want you to enable for me and I am virtue-signalling openess.

Analysis: The 'adult conversation' is an interesting and aggressive version of the term. What is implies is that the instigator is being an adult and you have to be an adult too by agreeing - and if you disagree you are being a child. As soon as you invoke this version it turns in a HIPPO argument.

Humane english:

1. I have some things that I need you to do for me. Please.

2. I have some things that I need you to do for me and I would like you to understand them in more detail. Please.

3. Can I talk to you about [topic] please?


Usage: 'I felt overwhealm when you did that.' or 'They felt overwealm at this point'.

Why is this an issue? Just a bit sloppy.

Who does it? Consultants in user experience or customer analysis.


Usage: 'So we can apply criticality to that decision.' 'We need to approach this with criticality.'

Who does it? Upper level management. Goes naturally with 'Optionality'.

What they think it means; bringing full scrutiny to a decision.

What they should say; We need to approach this decision critically.

But what does that mean? It's kinda redundant in that who would make a decision 'non-criticality'? Still, why have a boring old decision when you can sprinkle some criticality on it?

Plain english version: We need to make a decision.