I declare myself allowed to use the word bullshit, which official definition is nonsense, lies, exaggeration, foolish talk, pretentious talk, in other words, bullshit. Yes, slang, inelegant, and politically incorrect in print, but real. As real as the bulls themselves, who never thought of making such a great contribution to language.
My decision has greatly been helped by seeing it in print in a prestigious journal, ‘Judgment and Decision Making’, which in its November 2015 issue contains an article entitled ‘On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit’.
The article refers to a series of experiments where randomly, computer generated statements such as ‘Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty’ are put to the test, and people find them ‘profound’. Then, they swapped those statements for Deepak Chopra’s twitter feed, and saw similar results. The article is an attack on Mr Chopra, somebody equally venerated and despised by legions. Possibly not other human being can host in the same brain ( and business, and public figure, and books) alternative medicine, quantum physics, spirituality, yoga, holistic-anything, theology, mind-body stuff, medical anthropology and of course being a close friend of Chopra. That dense forest is bound to hide the two or three little trees that may be worth paying some attention to. His Wikipedia entry states that ‘The medical and scientific communities’ opinion of him ranges from dismissive to damning; criticism includes statements that his approach could lure sick people away from effective treatments’.
But as much as debating the wisdom of Deepak Chopra may be a reasonable thing to do over a couple of beers, if nothing else better to do, this Daily Thought is not about him.
It is about the fantastic machinery of bullshit generation that we have in the history, and day to day reality, of management. This is a statement picked at random from one of million ‘management writings’: ‘Studies have shown that committing to a goal can help improve employee performance. But more specifically, research reveals that setting challenging and specific goals can further enhance employee engagement in attaining those goals’.
Profound. Very. Seriously profound.
Profound statements can also be seen in LinkedIn posts usually following a direct correlation between the number of views and likes and the ‘profound nature’ of things like the one written above. Some big, big, management guru names (my lawyer discourages me from going further) use this technique of Profound Statements ad libitum, obtaining multi thousand views, thousand likes and hundred of equally profound comments such as ‘I could not agree more’, or ‘thanks again for sharing your wisdom, Sir’. Linkedin algorithms love it.
Here is my hope and my invitation. May 2016 be a year of profound bullshit detection in our organizations, a year of conceptual clean up, de-cluttering the ‘profound’ language of management and leadership, the triumph of sanity and the little worship of Critical Thinking. That kingdom come. Amen.