A ‘thought shower’ on the history of management bulls*** bingo

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash



The Chancellor’s joke about Michael Gove’s ‘long, economicky words’ struck a chord with me.


I’m a big fan of innovation and, as we know, innovation is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. But, when I hear people innovating on new words, terms and phrases simply to appear smart or be in with the in-crowd, then I lose the will to live.


So does our Chancellor, Philip Hammond, it would appear. As he delivered his Autumn Budget, he also delivered a jibe at Cabinet colleague Michael Gove’s expense when he warned he would be using some “long, economicky” words. This was an apparent reference to the Environment Secretary’s tendency to use them in a way that has led to speculation he’s after the Chancellor’s job. Now it was time for Mr Hammond to “out” Mr Gove and have some fun at the dispatch box.


Get ready to play “bulls*** bingo”


The world of business knows the perils of tortuous jargon all too well and this led an “innovative” form of resistance that our politicians might be well advised to study. Get ready to play “bulls*** bingo”.


So what is it and where does it all come from? And why is there such a need for some among us to create a bingo list of “bulls***” words?


This all stems from management consulting techniques that sprung up in the USA (where else?) from the 1980s onwards.


they wanted their staff, cultures and profits to be so much better


As big companies emerged from the Second World War, they wanted their staff, cultures and, ultimately, profits all to be so much better. Employees needed to be made to feel part of the firm with more accountability and responsibility for getting things right first time.


New words entered the lexicon of business such as “alignment”, “intentionality” and the bold “end-state vision”. And so a whole new era of words began to emerge, created by consultants and money-hungry universities that would peddle these out to senior and middle managers.


Unfortunately, those in senior and middle management scooped up these new terms, internalised them and made damn sure they regurgitated them when speaking to their staff, at conferences and during their appraisals.


designed to awaken employees from their bureaucratic and dull gaze


The vocabulary was putatively designed to awaken employees from their bureaucratic and dull gaze and open their eyes and minds to a new higher stream of consciousness.


A whole new raft of words began to emerge as wordsmiths and consultants smashed them together, creating new terms that now sit in the bulls*** bingo scorecards. By this, I mean it literally got to the stage that employees would score each other on how many bingo words were used during a meeting or conference speech simply to amuse themselves and have some office banter afterwards.


Many of you will recognise these words as some are still in existence and are still used with much aplomb by the management consultancy brigade. Words like “ideation”, “imagineering” and “creaction” all come into being. And yes, I’m guilty of using these myself to be honest.


in came the caramel chai lattes and almond croissants


As this business culture’s new lingo spread, public sector organisations joined in the fun as many of them paid huge sums to consultants to come in and re-invent how they operated. Out went the tea and sannies and in came the caramel chai lattes and almond croissants. It was here that I think the real damage was done, although it did lead to the creation of some of the best bingo words, many of which survive today.


My personal favourites include “braindump”, “drop the ball”, “tailwind”, “thought showers”, “date lake” and “iterative thinking”.


20 hardened detectives sucked in their cheeks


I recall working for a short time in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in the east end of Glasgow. There was a new detective chief inspector in town and he wanted to make his mark. The first thing he did was institute a register, rather like a class register, where big hairy detectives would have to report for duty to his room and duly sign in.


The register was placed on his desk, so the detectives would have to lean over to sign it. Thus, the detective chief inspector would be able to smell their breath and ascertain if they had been drinking. You can imagine how that went down with Glasgow East End detectives in the 1990s.


He mustered them all together, like new recruits, and started to pontificate about the new policy using bulls*** bingo words. Having established that they were all sober, he then floated a new idea on how to handle murder evidence. As he finished, he stated “Good, then let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it!” This saying is now a classic. I watched as 20 hardened detectives sucked their cheeks in and went red in the face as they tried not to burst out laughing.


So, let’s “revisit” why Mr Gove is purportedly using “economicky” words at the Palace of Westminster. Is he showing that understands his own “core competencies” when it comes to numbers?


Or is he adopting a more “open source” approach to communication with his colleagues? After all, he does not want to end up “firefighting” if he gets it all wrong.


Maybe he is “empowering” his team as he strives for closer “orientation”. Perhaps, he could even create a “dashboard” of “stakeholders” as he develops his new bingo card and the “bandwidth” of his department. And so it could go on as we paint the “big picture”.


I just hope that maybe now we should get over our use of bingo words and start to talk normally to each other. And perhaps Mr Hammond shouting “house!” on Mr Gove, could be a good start for us all. Managers take note.



Avoiding the pitfalls that lead to zombification

zombie, zombification, startup zombies


Apparently Brad Pitt filmed a movie in Glasgow all about zombies.


Many of the streets around the city centre were renamed and given American-style street signs so it looked like a typical US city centre.


Zombification in the start-up scene


I’m not a fan of zombie movies, so I cannot say I’ve seen this particular film. But, as I speak with numerous UK start-ups and many angel investors, there would appear to be a fair bit of “zombie-ism” or “zombification” taking place in the start-up scene.
There is nothing better than a pitch from an entrepreneur that blows you away. It should be well rehearsed, but not robot like.

It should cover a few of the staple bases, but not be too technical. It should be delivered in a professional and business-like fashion to show respect to the audience and potential investors. There should, in short, be enough to hook an investor into wanting to find out more.


Then, if an entrepreneur communicates well with investors and completes some due diligence, a seed investment of say £150,000 can land. It seems £150,000 is a nice number as it dovetails well with the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, where up to 50 per cent of an investment made in a qualifying company can be offset against a private investor’s tax burden.


So, whether the start-up entrepreneur needs 150 grand, the magical pitch number is – yes you’ve guessed it – £150,000. So, in it goes and the entrepreneur looks at her bank account and her breath is taken away.




My word, after all that pitching and diligence, HMRC work and business plan formation, she now has someone else’s cash to run her start-up and shoot for the moon. Yippee!


But then something happens. Reality kicks in…


But then something happens. Reality kicks in and the entrepreneur has to do what she said she would do. She has to hire at least one or two key members of staff. She has to negotiate on contracts, terms, incentives, share options and the like. Then there is the new workplace pension and setting up everything with HMRC and her accountants on payroll, etc.


The business of running the business


Of course, there will be some form of premises needed to rally the team and stick on the website. There may be the formation of a board and the appointment of non-executive directors as specified by the investors. And still there is the business of running the business. It is here that the zombification process starts to form.


focus on hitting certain agreed metrics and targets


While the entrepreneur is running around doing admin-type functions to make the business legal and work, she also has to focus on hitting certain agreed metrics and targets. Metrics and targets that she used to convince investors to swell her bank account with coin. But, alas this is really and truly the hard bit. She is on her own and there is no turning back.


Dead in five months!


She promised a bumper payday and she has to deliver. And the next 12 weeks are torture. As she works out where and how to spend her money to hit targets, get traction, produce sales and attracts users or customers, her cash pile starts to reduce and the brutal reality kicks in… “I could be dead in five months!”


Like a zombie


So what does she do? Well, she starts to act like a zombie as the zombification process sets in. Her communication with her investors tails off. She does not share her frustrations, insecurities, fears and worries with her team. She starts to feel all alone and even lonelier as she knows that she should ask for help, but cannot work out how to.


Her thought processes turn to mash and while there is still some glimmer of hope that she can pull it all back on track, she cannot face the reality that in essence, she has no idea how to run a business. In effect, she is already a zombie and will not get second-stage funding.


My shout out to anyone who has raised investment is make sure you avoid zombification. Enlist the expertise of your investors, mentors and anyone who you think has a brain. Be honest and communicate. Brad Pitt won’t always be around to save the day.