The Bull Stops Here
A new book by a Danville dad puts the kibosh on B.S.
Pity Brian Fugere’s kids. They can’t talk their way out of anything. Their dad, one of the authors of the new book Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, has devoted himself to ridding the world of obfuscation, jargon, and malarkey. And while his focus is usually on the business world, he can spot baloney anywhere. "I’m a ton more forgiving if there aren’t excuses and arguments," the 47-year-old father of four says. "I tell my kids, ‘The harder you are on yourself, the easier others will be on you.’ "
Fugere, a consultant at business services giant Deloitte and Touche, teamed with then co-workers Chelsea Hardaway and John Warshawsky to launch their first anti-B.S. weapon in June 2003, a software program called Bullfighter. The program operates like a spell checker, but instead of misspellings it searches for meaningless corporate-speak and gobbledygook. It quickly gathered a cult following, and national news organizations, including CNN and Fox News, came calling.
"The media loved Bullfighter because they could refer to B.S. without actually saying the word," says Fugere, the Bullfighter team leader. "Also, there’s an anti-big business angle going on here. Life inside of big companies has become absurd, and that makes an interesting story."
Inspired by the buzz Bullfighter sparked, Fugere, Hardaway, and Warshawsky wrote Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, which hits stores this month. The book shows executives and cubicle-dwellers alike how to bring life to their memos, e-mails, and speeches, and to avoid the many hazards that can destroy clarity and creativity. "People are fed up with B.S.," says Fugere. "People want to have normal, natural conversations at work."
The anonymity trap is one of the many pitfalls the Bullfighters warn of. "People are afraid of showing personality at work," Fugere says, describing how the very things that make us human have been erased. "We let PowerPoint plan our presentations. And God forbid we should actually crack a joke."
Then there’s the obscurity trap. Check out this nugget Fugere cites:
"We have robust networks of strategic assets that we own or have
contractual access to, which give us greater flexibility and speed to
reliably deliver widespread logistical solutions." Huh?
Guess whose annual report that’s from. Enron’s. "As they got further into trouble, they cloaked language in their reports that was more difficult to penetrate," Fugere says, "but the hype did not say anything."
And don’t forget the happy messenger habit. "People will do anything to avoid delivering the bad news. But if it’s done well, it builds credibility," says Fugere. "Last year, George Bush was asked not once, but twice, if he would do anything differently. He fumbled around and could not come up with an answer. It’s ironic because he’s a poster child for straight talk—better than most, he can communicate with his constituency. But his failure to admit that he could make a mistake was the antithesis of straight talk."
Fugere’s crusade is nothing more than his way of following the example set by his communication hero, the man to whom the book is dedicated. And who would that be? JFK? Lincoln? Guess again. "We dedicated the book to Mr. T from that ’80s TV show, The A-Team," Fugere says with a laugh. "After all, he was the one who said, ‘Don’t give me none of that jibba-jabba.’"
Why Business People Speak Like Idiots co-author Brian Fugere wants you to sound like an actual person.
1. Stop telling people to "think out of the box." It’s a cliché. Ditto for "touch base," "push the envelope," "walk the talk," and "brain dump."
2. Don’t try to sound smarter than you are. People are smart enough to see right through it.
3. Lose the hard-sell approach. People are sick and tired of the used-car salesmen of the world.
4.Kick the happy messenger habit. Admit your mistakes. You’ll build credibility for the future.
5. E-mail wisely. A challenging issue in a personal relationship should never be dealt with by e-mail. Phone—or better yet, talk face to face.