Pushing the Envelope – and other horrors…

Did you see the Superbowl on Sunday night? It wasn’t the game that fascinated me – I was still in therapy after Newcastle’s 4-4 draw the day before – so much as the commentary. It was like listening to all the worst business clichés you’ll ever hear.

Have to say that Green Bay have really brought their A-game today

It’s 4th and ten; this could be the game-changer

Those guys out there are really giving 110%

You can see they’ve worked on their basic blocking and tackling


Not to mention about a hundred references to dropping the ball…

There are some really helpful business and motivational sayings – some of them were in the Quotes blog I did last year (The Power Of Words). But there are a thousand more that mean virtually nothing, and sadly, no amount of ‘stepping up to the plate’ will turn a bad leader into a good one. (Take Me To Your Leader)

“You need to bring your A-game.” I’m sorry, but if you’re going to work or if you’re running a business, why would you not bring your A-game? Why would you not give anything other than your best? What are you going to do, work on advanced strategies for Solitaire?

“Giving 110%” is another one that grates on me. If someone performs to their absolute potential that’s remarkable. And it’s certainly enough for me. What does ‘giving 110%’ mean anyway? Working until midnight? Because if that’s what giving 110% on Monday means, by Friday you’ll be giving about 50%.   

Anyway, here they are – Ed’s top ten of horrible business clichés. If I ever use one of them in a TAB meeting you have my permission to raise your hand and demand that I buy everyone a coffee.

10. “Seeing the business from 30,000 feet.” I understand the logic behind this one, but whatever happened to a birds-eye view? All I can think of at 30,000 feet is ‘will Dav notice if I have another G&T?’

9. “We need to work on our basic blocking and tackling.” Have you played professional sport? No – then ‘let’s make sure we get the basics right’ or ‘let’s do the simple things well’ will do

8. “Synergy” – word used for a merger of two businesses when the merger doesn’t have any logic to anyone applying even the smallest amount of common sense. Shortly to be replaced by “1+1 = 11” (as quoted in the AOL purchase of the Huffington Post)

7. “Maximise customer satisfaction” – and the alternative is what? Minimise customer satisfaction? (Only if you’ve read the training manual for doctors’ receptionists.) Does a baker wander in at four in the morning and think, “Customers…they’ve had it too easy. For a couple of days I’ll give ’em extra-hard crusts. Couple of chipped teeth and then they’ll really begin to appreciate me.”

6. “All singing off the same hymn sheet.” No. Not even in York Minster

5. “Pick the low hanging fruit.” Aaaaggghhhh!! I hate this one. It means ‘let’s not neglect the easy jobs or the small, easy sales.’ But ‘pick the low hanging fruit?’ Why not ‘go the full 9 yards’ and ‘drill down’ into the low hanging fruit?

4. “Paradigm Shift” – as in ‘we need to engineer a fundamental paradigm shift.’ In English: ‘we need to change the way we’re thinking’

3. “Bringing your A-game” – see above, and of course, now banned among golf commentators. Tiger had indeed ‘brought his A-game.’ Just not onto the golf course.

2. “Giving it 110%” – see above. Seriously, would anyone like to hazard a guess at the divorce stats among men who went home some time on Friday night and said, ‘yep, I’ve really given the company 110% this week?’

But whipping all those bad boys by a country mile, the one phrase that sends me running for the hills: “Push the Envelope.” Forget the coffees. If I ever say this at a TAB meeting just stand up and walk out. Go to the bar. Do some damage. I’ll be along later with my credit card.

To the uninitiated, ‘push the envelope’ means to try and extend the current levels of performance: to innovate, or go beyond commonly accepted boundaries. It has its origins in maths, and the ‘flight envelope’ of WW2.

But seriously, you are a grown man. You have achieved some measure of success. But as you’re shaving you think, “I’m really gonna ask the guys to push the envelope this morning.” And you expect to be taken seriously? In business or in life?

“Chuck, I just don’t have time to collect Chuck Jr from soccer and Mary-Beth from the mall and then get ready to go bowling.”

“Well, honey, you’re just gonna have to push the envelope.”

I leave it with you. No doubt I’ve missed out your favourite bit of corporate horror-speak. At the risk of no-one daring to open their mouth at future TAB meetings, let me know. Let’s run them up the flagpole and see who salutes…



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  2. Dick Jennings · February 11, 2011

    Bet you’re passionate about your 20:20, 360, vision though!

    • edreidyork · February 11, 2011

      Indeed Dick, which always has a different perspective from my helicopter viewpoint 30000 ft up!

  3. Rich Cadden · February 11, 2011

    🙂 ha ha ha ha I thought you’d missed that one Ed….. I always laugh when I hear people say the ‘run it up the flag-pole and see which way it blows!”

    Lets put a bit more ‘meat on the bone’, as some people have really ‘dropped the ball’ and go with some ‘blue sky-thinking’. I am sure there are plenty more gems to come. We will have to ‘touch-base later, offline”… Unfortunately, it may have to be someone else at the moment as I LITERALLY have been left holding the baby!!!!! 🙂

    • edreidyork · February 11, 2011

      Genius Rich – look forward to touching base!!

  4. Dave Rawlings · February 11, 2011

    Well, let’s shove this in the mental microwave and see if it defrosts:

    My postman’s always pushing the envelope!

    • edreidyork · February 11, 2011

      That’s a new one on me Dave, but I’ll remember to wheel it out and dust it down for our next board meeting..

  5. Rory Ryan · February 11, 2011

    Coincidentally, I was at a site meeting and the cliches were flowing so I used my genuinely favourite expression and said to the client ‘let’s talk plainly, what DO you want?’ Cuts through the BS every time! Let’s talk plainly.

  6. Penny Lines · February 15, 2011

    Hey Ed

    Having worked with many US-based IT companies, not only have I heard most of these but I am guilty as charged!

    I did hear a great response on a teleconference though. Some senior European exec had just come out with such a long-winded and complicated load of b****** that we were all completely lost. “What d’you think, Maria?” he asked the most senior person on the call. Her response was a pause and then “I’m overwhelmed, Dexter, just completely overwhelmed…. ”

    Brilliant and beautiful. Polite and pleasingly patronising for the rest of us.

    You’ll probably get chance to use it in the next 24 hours – enjoy!

    • edreidyork · February 15, 2011

      Hi Penny – I love that! Definitely one to use soon

  7. Alan Markham · February 16, 2011

    Nice one Ed – can I suggest “going forward”?

    Until about 2 years ago, I think we must have had the ability to go backwards as well, because it is only in recent times that everyone seems to point out that we will indeed be “going forward”.

    I agree with you on 110% – where do you stop? Can I give 120% or 130%…

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