Tag Archives: business

Optimization theatre

The evolution of a society is an arms race between the fragile evolution of false consciousness myths and the robust evolution of mutually assured mediocrity equilibria. That’s how you slouch towards utopia.

Venkatesh Rao, one of the most genuinely original and iconoclastic thinkers there is. If you wanted to write a story about a consultant who cheerfully and openly undermines the litany of assumptions about how the consultancy business — and indeed all business — works, and yet continues to to be a pretty successful consultant, this is your source material. (And boy, is there a whole lot of it, too.)

The liturgy of business

Sarah Constantin has been talking to a marketing advisor; the advice she’s been getting confirms pretty much every assumption I’ve accumulated about the cultish dynamics of business culture.

So, how do you keep from sounding like a jerk when you’re essentially bragging and making big requests? A lot of pleasantries. A lot of framing phrases (“as we talked about in our last conversation”, “circling back”, “moving forward”, etc). Wishing them a good weekend/holiday/etc, hoping they’re doing well, etc.

I’d previously noticed in office contexts how vital it is to just keep your mouth making words smoothly even when there’s not a lot of information density to what you’re saying.

Business “jargon” and “buzzwords” are unfairly maligned by people who aren’t used to corporate culture. First of all, a lot of them originally referred to specific important concepts, and then got overused as generic applause lights — e.g. “disruptive innovation” is actually a really useful idea in its original meaning. But, second of all, it’s honestly just handy to have stock phrases if you need to keep talking fluently without awkward pauses. People respond really well to fluency. Palantir’s first exercise for all new employees is to give a software demo, which taught me that it is really hard to speak in public for five minutes without pausing to think of what to say next. Stock phrases help you reach for something to say without appearing hesitant or afraid.

As I’m sure you’re probably aware, but it bears repeating: the “con” in “con-artist” is short for “confidence”. The “unfairly maligned” jargon Constantin refers to are the shibboleths by which predators might identify and make (cautious, contingent) alliances with one another.

Of course, as Constantin observes, all cultures have their jargons and shibboleths, not least academia. Liturgies propagate beliefs. The terrifying thing about the cult of business is that the belief it propagates is utterly empty of anything but its own self-replication. As the old riff goes, growth for growth’s own sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.