Are buzzwords meaningless?

Here’s the list of the Top 10 buzz words used on Linked In in 2011.

  1. Creative
  2. Organisational
  3. Effective
  4. Extensive Experience
  5. Track Record
  6. Motivated
  7. Innovative
  8. Problem solving
  9. Communication skills
  10. Dynamic

People have a need to be wanted and admired, and to match their qualities (real or imagined) with those of the zeitgeist.

As a snapshot, the buzz words provide a good indication of the qualities we think are most valued in the workplace. We want others to see us as the archetype of the valuable modern employee.

We might write these words about ourselves, but do they mean anything when they have been written by others? The words may not describe actual personal qualities so much as an understanding of what employers and others are looking for.

But perhaps what employers and others are looking for is someone who will stand out from the crowd?

How does an employer react to these buzz words on a CV or resume? Do they actually mean anything at all?

I have my own likes and dislikes in the list.

Personally, whenever I see the word ‘dynamic’ in a job ad I tend to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and move on. Dynamic conjures up an image of Tigger – people like that exhaust me and I don’t consider ‘dynamic’ as one of my qualities. Would employers want me if I said I was ‘thoughtful’ and ‘reflective’?

Motivated. Motivated by what and to do what? Often, I guess, the word is short-hand for ‘my career is the most important thing in my life and I’ll do whatever it takes to be a success on my own terms.’ ‘Selfish’ could be another word for it.

Most of us want to fit in to whatever social milieu we aspire to. We are social animals after all and are hard-wired to want to belong. If your Linked In profile contains more than half of the buzz words that is the signal you are sending out. The maverick is dead. Long live the maverick.


Delayed gratification and the Chinese

Robert Peston’s BBC programme on the economic crisis highlighted an interesting difference in behaviour between the Chinese, and the British and Americans.

The Chinese save around half of their salary – even though those salaries about 10% of Western equivalents.

The West (US and UK particularly) save hardly anything – instead we prefer to borrow and buy what we want when we want it. The availability of easy credit has changed our behaviour over the years. I would also suggest that the Welfare State (in the UK at least) has given people a false sense of financial security. If you fall, the safety net will be there to catch you.

Having studied Max Weber at University and been fascinated by his association of the rise of capitalism with Protestant ethics, it seems strange that we have forgotten the lesson that deferred gratification is sound economics. Individuals and nations have binged onĀ  easy credit and have become addicted to it.

The Chinese are rapidly becoming the world’s creditor. China’s strength, influence and power show no signs of waning. What future for the West if we can’t get through the current crisis?

What behaviours must we change to help us get off our addiction to instant gratification?

Firstly, I think the Welfare State needs serious reform. It creates a culture of Learned Helplessness. Given the demographic and obesity issues we’re facing it makes one wonder how we will cope with increased costs in a flatlining economy. We could always borrow more…no wait, that’s what got us here in the first place.

Next, we need a greater incentive to save rather than to spend. The UK has come to rely on the consumer as an engine of economic activity. The trouble is, most consumer products are made outside of the UK. Politicians have pandered to this, recognising that consumerism is a barometer of electorate feelgood. We are happier when we have cash in our pocket and we’re spending it freely. Interesting that David Cameron (the UK Prime Minister) has been trailing low interest rates as an economic benefit to the electorate. They are more beneficial to borrowers than to savers. OK, business has to borrow to finance growth. But the problem there is lack of credit, not the cost of it.

Next, we need to reduce the UK’s reliance on financial services and the City of London. One commentator on Peston’s programme said that if the City of London was to be the equivalent proportion to the UK economy as Wall Street is to the US economy, then it would be one-eighth the size. We need to start making things again. And politicians need to create the conditions for a manufacturing renaissance. If the special pleading about the City of London at last week’s Euro summit was not evidence that the UK economy is dangerously lopsided then I don’t know what else will make our politicians recognise that we are too reliant on the City.

Another BBC programme last night showed children in a Primary School learning Chinese – the head teacher basically said there was no point learning a European language because Europe was in decline and future opportunities would be elsewhere. I fear she will be proved right.


Where’s reputation?

The PRSA of the US is consulting with its members in order to redefine PR for the digital age. See:

Interestingly, amongst the Top 20 words in the word-cloud, ‘Reputation’ does not appear.

I wonder if the CIPR in the UK will consider a similar exercise? It would be interesting to compare and contrast.



Could honesty be the best policy?

I make no apologies for returning to the subject of PR and Reputation.

I read with interest Ian Monk’s column in PR Week (in the UK) in the 25th November edition.

In brief he recounted a meeting with an old PR friend who opined that he spends half of his time telling people that PR is not what they need and that it doesn’t have all the answers. Too many people today, he went on, are conned into thinking PR is the penicillin for all ills. If the product, performance or service is not right in the first place then PR isn’t the answer.

It’s that issue I have previously highlighted about the tree and its shadow…again.

If people think they can PR their way out of something rotten and dysfunctional then they’re being foolish. And too often, that is the case.

And PR professionals will happily fill the fire buckets and damp down the flames as trust goes up in smoke and call it Reputation Management.

To add to the risk of reliance on PR as a Reputation Management tool, as soon as PR is perceived by influential others (e.g. customers) to be part of the Reputation ‘solution’ it actually makes things worse.

PR’s job is to communicate and to act as a two-way conduit between an organisation and its publics.

It is not about putting lipstick on a pig. A pig is still a pig. And actually, the honest recognition of this (I think of Ryanair) is probably better PR than the cosmetic variety. It’s about the tree, not the shadow.