Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Resist business bureaucratese

UPDATE: "This has created a significant downturn in the volume of the frontend product pipeline which has resulted in a negative impact on portfolio diversity"
"The current financial reporting structure does not provide direct feedback to decision makers impacting costs."
I don't know what it is about MBA students that makes them write in a style that no one wants to read. This sentence on their first homework assignment inspired me to assign Fred Kahn's classic "My War Against Bureaucratese," the gobbledygook written by government bureaucrats designed to hide what they are really doing.

Professor Kahn began this war as part of his succesful effort to deregulate the airline industry. He is the hero of Thomas McCraw's Pulitzer Prize Winning book Prophets of Regulation. Interestingly, the villain of the book is Louis Brandeis for his role in creating the FTC.

Colleague Mike Shor's MBA Writer puts phrases from student memos together to generate sentences that sound all too familiar.
To proactively manage profit, our key initiative objective pushes the envelope toward systematized reciprocal capability.

Enabling continuity, enterprise optimization accelerates the movement towards third-generation contingencies.


  1. I read this article and found many examples of words I use daily. Past managers have told me never to write above an eight grade level. I don't know why I feel compelled to use complicated words.

  2. It is too fanciful to equate meaningless gobs of words with "writing above an eighth grade level." An eighth grader is likely to know the words "30,000", "foot", and "view" but would likely never put them together to substitute for the simple concept "overview."

  3. Guilty as charged....although I'm proud to see that neither of the comments can be claimed as my own. I will certainly be working on this during the year and will ask for accountability from my team and classmates.

  4. I'm hanging my head in shame. "The current financial reporting structure" belongs to none other than the team of yours truly. Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa.

  5. Hats off to Craig for owning up to one of the comments making the blog. Now, which team is responsible for the other comment? Just kidding, I can certainly see how we people get caught up in trying to sound professional and knowledgeable but end up generating bureaucratese...