S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 5 April 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 

 
Greased Lightning

 

[No More Teams!]

It's not snake oil they're

selling any more, these

management consultants and

emotivators who populate the

magazine rack and business

section of your local Borders.

No, they're selling synonyms.

Once, you sat on a committee;

Alvin Toffler says you should

think of it as an "ad-hocracy."

You used to call it a boardroom;

Michael Schrage thinks you'd

find it more useful as a "shared

space." And who wouldn't prefer

Peter Drucker's "knowledge

worker" to "drone"?

 

[Wipeboard]

Language is the consultant's new

drug, but before you call it a

tranquilizer, you'd be smart to

consider their vested interest

in keeping their audience awake.

Terms like "knowledge worker"

and "shared space" are not so

much a balm, intended to mollify

the butt-chafe incurred by

mindless desk-jockeying, but

more like speed, intended to

give the horde an itchy, nervous

buzz. For all their cheerful

exhortations to have "serious

fun," the rationale behind this

attempted idiolect is about as

soothing as crystal meth. And

just as flaky.

 

[Sloan School of Management]

The most conspicuous of these

paper-bound management

consultants - the new fluff

girls of the corporate culture -

is the recently launched Fast

Company, the "Handbook of the

Business Revolution." Fast

Company's mission spiel reads

like the sloganeering of the

Port Huron Statement filtered

through the enthusiasm of the

freshman class at the Sloan

Management School. The words

"revolution," "change," and

"new" (or some permutation of

them) are used at least once in

each of the document's eleven

eye-popping paragraphs.

 

[Workers of the World Unite!]

The soft-if-not-bleeding-hearted

might find Fast Company's blithe

appropriation of revolutionary

rhetoric alarming. But neither

the appropriation of radical

language nor its questionable

ability to disguise

what is essentially

shamanism with an MBA is

especially new nor especially

profound.

 

[Neo-Leisure]

Ad man Bruce Barton's most

legendary creation is

undoubtedly Betty Crocker, but

his contribution to corporate

mythology has proven to be more

insidious. In 1925 Barton

produced one of the first books

to trade upon the metaphor of

"management guru," and he did so

in the most literal way

possible. His book, The Man

Nobody Knows, drew Jesus as a

man's man, a "born leader,"

whose pitch was "worthy of the

attentive study of any sales

manager."

 

[Blends 90s Tech With 60s Activism]

That contemporary writers like

Schrage look less to Peter or

Paul and more to John, Paul,

George, and Ringo when illustrating

"conceptual collaboration"

reflects only our changing

definition of idolatry, not any

lessening of our belief in it.

Indeed, the grab-bag of popcult

references that any one of these

writers brings to the table is

reminiscent of a witch doctor's

mojo. Everyone from Gilbert and

Sullivan to Tommy Boy are held

up as brightly-colored totems

against the dark force that

truly animates Fast Company and

its ilk: panic.

 

[Port Huron]

The use of counter-culture

references and revolutionary

buzzwords serves less to pollute

a dearly-held ideal than to

intimate uncertainty - the first

rule of good advertising, after

all, is to create anxiety. So

this talk of "revolution" isn't

thrown out as some bone of hip,

but rather to imply that no one

really knows what's going on. If

anything, it's Fast Company's

specific incitement to "break

the rules" which rings false -

such a command depends on the

assumption that rules for

business do, in fact, exist in the

first place.

 

[Think Tank]

They don't. Beyond the inexorable

logic of the bottom line (make

more money than you spend -

which is, in any case, more of a

definition than an instruction),

no one really knows what makes a

successful business. If anyone

did, there would be more of

them.

 

[Everything I Thought I Knew]

The cover of Fast Company's

second issue presents EDS's Mort

Meyerson coming clean:

"Everything I thought I knew

about leadership was wrong."

Well, of course. Why else read

Fast Company? Or No More Teams? Or

Jesus CEO? Management strategies

and leadership styles change

more quickly than hemlines, and

with as little provocation. Fast

Company is not the "Rolling

Stone of business," it's Vogue.

Constant change and an

ever-evolving vocabulary of

euphemisms for "work" are as

essential to magazines like Fast

Company as hue neologisms are to

J. Crew.

 

[Fast Company]

Those insistent urgings to have

"serious fun" remind us

suspiciously of an aerobics

instructor's instruction to "get

funky!" - rows and rows of

people looking similarly

ridiculous. The consultant's

golden rule is to get in quick,

pull out an impressive chainsaw,

and slip out before the exhaust

fumes dissipate. Whether

ultimately effective or not, the

louder the grind, the more

likely you are to be invited

back. Monthly, perhaps?




courtesy of Ann O'Tate