Seeing is Believing
A Guide to Make One Perplexed
Or how the metaverse will save us, one contorted axiom at a time.
Ambrose Bierce, of sainted memory, is known for a Devil’s Dictionary, a cynic’s primer on human behavior, laid out in Noah Webster style.

Pity he strayed into hostile territory in bandit-infested Northern Mexico in 1913, never to be seen again. Maybe someone lurking in the sagebrush took offense at imagined slights in the Dictionary. People are so thin-skinned.

Pity also that he lived one hundred years too soon. Bierce missed his moment. Obfuscation has exploded, rivaling worthless college degrees (or maybe because of them). A euphemistic pandemic with no known vaccine, for which we need a new dictionary, has infiltrated our lexicon. Straight talk in professional settings is frowned upon, covertly if not overtly. Blunt talk is often memorable and career-threatening. Verbal mush is benign and soon forgotten. As the author of the Bartleby column in the Nov. 20, 2021, edition of The Economist noted, concerning contemporary biz-speak, “People rarely say what they mean, but hope that their meaning is nonetheless clear. Think Britain, but with paycheques. To navigate this kind of workplace, you need a phrasebook.”

In 2021, you need a big phrasebook. Facility with fluff has become no less a survival skill for shop floors as in corporate boardrooms or the financial press. One can fake profundity without the bothersome obligation to prove the rightness or efficacy of one’s statements. The heads just keep on nodding.

Give examples, you say. Fair enough; navigate, we will. Herewith is a modest sampling. Thanks to Frances Stewart for the inspiration.

“Pivot,” N. As in, “We are experiencing an unprecedented iconic transformational existential pivot in our business.”

What they really mean: S–t happens. Under cover of Covid-19, we’ve been able to complete the personnel and procedural housecleaning we’ve been wanting to do for years. Thanks, Covid. Act of God, indeed.

“Meta–,” N. From the Greek “beyond,” as in metaphysics; or metamorphosis; or metaverse. As in, “We are experiencing an unprecedented iconic transformational existential pivot in our business to the metaverse.”

What they really mean: We are changing the subject, while hoping you don’t notice. We are so beyond caring what you think of our behavior prior to October 2021, not that we ever really cared in the first place.

For context, see “Gaslight,” V. As defined by The Urban Dictionary and other sources, “to persistently and repeatedly feed false information to an individual in the hope of compromising and thereby casting doubt on their memory or perception of certain events or statements, thus invalidating them or neutralizing their worth, and therefore, their impact to a discussion or argument.”

For example, “Social media companies have a very dim and condescending view of human nature and people’s memories, rendering those people prone to monetizing. Thus are fortunes built.”

Or, “I’ve always loved electric vehicles and lithium batteries, especially now that I can make a fortune building peripherals to that business, and burnishing my green credentials simultaneously, thus validating me to my kids and to potential new wives of a crunchy disposition.” Some EV drivers are ’80s Beemer Jerks transplanted to the 2020s. It’s still all about the angles. Some play them better than others.

What they really mean: Facts aren’t facts, and bad behavior is like relativistic physics; i.e., it all depends on your point of view, thus excusing everything.

For reference see Orwell, George: 1984.

Memo to 2020s version of ’80s Beemer Jerks: You still can’t take it with you when you die. Perhaps the metaverse will rectify that deficiency.

Enough about generalities. Back to Earth. What about the shop floor, where most of us (at least those of us reading this publication) spend a fair amount of our lives?

“Issues,” N. As in, “Due to issues with our supply chain, we are unable to provide you with a date when we’ll be shipping you our hundred-piece flying probe project, which we told you in August needed to be tested and completed by you by December 24, so we may make our year-end, as well as our OEM’s year-end. (For reference see transformational existential pivots above, etc.)”

What they really mean: That decision by management (now retired) in 2014 to go to one Chinese source for prototypes and preproduction builds has blown up in our face. The low cost seemed like a good idea at the time. Groupthink made it a no-brainer. What could possibly go wrong? We have MBAs and (therefore) can read spreadsheets! Thank goodness the bonus checks cleared long ago.

Or, “We are unable to complete this assembly due to issues on our production line.”

What they really mean: We were so preoccupied with installing and tweaking Industry 4.0 sensors in our pick-and-place line that we overlooked the deterioration of several dozen feeders needing replacement. Scrap rate took a big jump upward. That’s a crisis. We need a means to get to the bottom of this! Meanwhile, keep the line moving over the weekend to make up for lost shipments. Oh, and that 10TB of production data? Just set it over there in the CMMC section of the server.

Or, “We have issues with China. We’re going to try the same thing in Vietnam.”
What they really mean: We’re slow learners.

“Kanban,” N. As in, “Our Six Sigma system, modeled on GE, now operates on a finely honed Kanban basis all the way across the Pacific. Our suppliers must adhere to this system and get Black Belts certifying that adherence. There can be no disruptions. This is how we will operate going forward. What works for aircraft engines should translate just fine to circuit boards.”

What they really mean: Our suppliers finance our inventory.

What they also really mean: Financial engineering beats making stuff. Just in time.

“Going forward,” N. See “Kanban” above.

As in, “Going forward, our life coaches and emotional mentors will facilitate a results-driven, immersive relational experience that is at once authentic, empathizing, and humanizing, thereby forging an organic symbiosis that resonates with our own cocreating space and our awesome competitive positioning of our corporate DNA.”

What they really mean: Tomorrow, the next day and the next day after that, we’ll do stuff differently. What we did before didn’t work. Let’s try something new (like getting a new HR manager).

What they really, really mean: Never rely on one syllable when multiples will do.

“Circle back,” N. s in, “I want to circle back to that awesome slide six of your 400-slide PowerPoint detailing management’s 68-point plan for employee empowerment and better officing.”

What they really mean: I have nothing better to do than fill up time with meaningless digressions.

And: Asteroids circle back too. Ask the dinosaurs.

“Space,” N. As in, “I hope this finds you well. I am very impressed with the competitive positioning your company has achieved within the NDT space in the Bay Area region. I believe your business may be a strong fit with what we are looking for at Amoeba Private Equity and would love to discuss the future of your company.”

What they really mean: If you’re dumb enough to buy our BS and talk to us, we’re unscrupulous enough to want to lowball you with an insulting offer to buy your company. For reference see “Mark, easy.”

“I hope this finds you well.” As in, see “Space” above.

What they really mean: Faux-disarming expression of sincerity, conveying warmth where there is none. (For context, see “Gaslight.”) Sales technique used to address a perceived need to fill empty space with vapid verbiage. Emails with this query often begin with the salutation “Hey,” conveying additional false intergenerational familiarity.

“Survey,” N. As in, “Could you please complete this survey about your onboarding experience with our purchasing staff in Bangalore. If you would be so kind as to give our diligent staff members ratings of five on a scale of one to five, they will be most grateful and will have no need for remedial tutelage. Have a Nice Day, Your Malaysia-Based Onboarding Team for Cyclops Corporation. (Our Eye is Always on Quality.)

What they really mean: Please help us keep our jobs from the hordes who are vying to replace us. This recurring pestilence we inflict on all new vendors should be enough to discourage all but the most pathologically motivated from wanting to sign up and become vendors. We have better things to do than waste time with onboarding. Our engineers should learn to live with the existing Chinese supply chain and Kanban rules.

“Vendor,” N. As in, “The vendor says we should scrap this board design and restart it after a proper DfT analysis.”

What they really mean: Vendors dispense stale sandwiches. That’s how we view our supply base.

“Thought Leader,” N. As in, “Please attend our worldwide webinar on Industry 4.0 solutions to climate challenges to the electronics supply chain. Climate reality thought leaders will be present to enable a results-driven, evidence-based, action-oriented, accountability-sustaining dialogue.”

What they really mean: Klimawirklichkeitsgedankenführer!

Sounds like an officer in the Waffen SS. Does the Leader proclaim the Truth from a marble balcony for added effect? By derivation, does that make those of us beneath the rhetorical balcony thought followers? How is that indistinguishable from lemmings?

“Ignorance.” N. As in, “Our success rides on the ongoing ignorance of our members, customers, suppliers, clients, constituents. God forbid they venture to ask questions.” This is never spoken or written in an email. It is merely, and firmly, understood.

What they really mean: Careers are made and lost on recognition, mastery and exploitation of this, the strongest, most irresistible force in the universe.

Notwithstanding all that precedes, I rest my case and base my life on one last definition.

“Meliorism,” N. “The belief that the world tends to improve, and humans can aid its betterment.”

Despite ourselves.

Heaven help us all.

I’ll wager Ambrose Bierce would agree.

Clive Ashmore headshot
Robert Boguski
is president of Datest Corp. (datest.com); rboguski@datest.com. His column runs bimonthly.