The worrying rise of a culture of blatant bullshit

It is impossible to build and grow a company effectively into the future from a platform that is not aligned with reality.

The worrying rise of a culture of blatant bullshit
Photo by Brett Jordan / Unsplash

If there is one clear sign that a company is in trouble - it's the accepted use and misuse of bullshit by its leaders and managers.

Bullshit is not the same as lying.

Lying is when you know the truth, but choose to rather communicate a message which is purposely not the truth to gain an advantage.

Bullshit is when you don't really care what the truth is, but rather tell people what you think they want to hear in order for you to gain some kind of advantage.

The use of bullshit in society is radically increasing; you can see it in corporate mission and vision statements, in strategy documents, in annual reports, financial forecasts, investor prospectus documents - you name it, people with significant influence are wilfully using bullshit as a tool and seriously undermining the integrity of organisations and their positions in them as a result.

Even presidents of countries (some more than others) use bullshit in an effort to appease voters and get elected for another term in office.

'When Anna Weiner moved from a New York publisher to a Silicon Valley start-up, she was stunned by the way people spoke. The technology firm she worked for hired ‘a man who spoke in inscrutable jargon and maintained a robust fleet of social media accounts: He had thousands of followers and behaved as if he was an influencer. He was constantly changing job titles on a website where people voluntarily post their resumes, giving himself promotions to positions that did not exist’ (Weiner, 2020, pp. 162–3). Weiner was stunned when ‘the influencer brought a scooter into the office and rolled about barking into a wireless headset about growth hacking: value prop, first moved advantage, proactive technology, paralellization. Leading edge-solutions. Holy grail’. ‘It was garbage language to my ears’, Weiner writes, ‘but the customers loved him. I couldn’t believe it worked’ (ibid).
The ‘garbage language’ Weiner stumbled on is not unique to Silicon Valley. Organizations in many industries are infused with similar language. The ex-Financial Times journalist Lucy Kellaway collected up some examples in her ‘guffopedia’. They include ‘chief pollinator’, ‘iconicity’ and ‘loincloth strategy’. Stephen Poole’s (2013) dictionary of management speak has entries on ‘thought shower’, ‘drill down’ and ‘going forward’. Another dictionary of business jargon includes ‘consumer centric’, ‘fast track’, ‘talent pipeline’ and ‘going granular’ (Watson, 2015). Sometimes these terms refer to precise ideas. But more often, they are meaningless and misleading forms of communication. In other words, they are bullshit.' - via

The problem with corporate bullshit

The problem with the widespread use and acceptance of bullshit and the people that rely on it, is that it is impossible to build and grow a company effectively into the future from a platform that is not aligned with reality.

Targets, goals and visions of the future need to be realistic and plausible otherwise the striving towards bullshit is quickly discounted and rejected by people. When that happens, people quickly lose faith in leadership and start to look for proper guidance from other areas.

How to avoid the use of bullshit in your organisation

The best way to deter the use of bullshit in your organisation is to ensure that everyone avoids the use of jargon and to back up clear, unambiguous statements with evidence and plausible planning.

Nonsense meetings, committees, investigative panels and other gatherings that suck up time, resources and attention should all be done away with. Meetings in particular are fertile ground for bullshitters - all of them should be properly structured and run so that they deliver the value that they are meant to produce.

Bullshit thrives primarily under conditions that allow it to exist in the first place. If you have a problem of bullshit in your organisation, consider your culture and what purpose the bullshit serves within that culture.

If all other interventions fail to get rid of it, then a shift in your culture dynamics is probably on the cards.

Hire a truth teller

England rugby coach, Eddie Jones, apparently makes use of an outside 'truth teller' as a key member of his coaching team.

The 'truth teller' says things exactly as he sees them (even if the truth can be a bit hard to hear) in an effort to eliminate confirmation bias and  general free-floating bullshit within the team.

Bullshit may at first appear as something of a joke, but the consequences of it playing a leading role in an organisation are very serious. An increasing number of researchers are now investigating its effects because of how pervasive it has become.

Step 1 as they say, is awareness - now that you are aware of it, keep a look out for it in your environment and call it out. If you get sidelined for doing so, well it's probably a blessing in disguise.

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