BENIGN TO FIVE
A Dutch historian by the name of Rutger Bregman might have a clue as to why so many of our business words today make so little sense. He’s been in Australia recently talking about his book Utopia for Realists. In it he discusses, among many things, new ways of thinking about work and productivity. (Andrew Taylor wrote about Bregman for the Sydney Morning Herald last month – “Work-life balance: why we should only work 15 hours a week”.)
Bregman says that in the developed world new jobs have filled the gaps left by post-industrial automation. Many of these jobs are valueless, not only in that they contribute little or nothing to real wealth, but in the opinion of the very people undertaking them.
“A [YouGov] poll found that … 37 per cent of British workers have a job that they think doesn’t even need to exist,” Bregman explained.
“I’m not talking about the teachers and the garbagemen and the care workers here. If they stopped working, we’d be in trouble. I’m talking about all those well-paid professionals with excellent resumes who earn their money doing … strategic transactor peer-to-peer meetings while brainstorming the value add-on of disruptive co-creation in the network society.”
What Bregman is implying is that the language is incoherent and hollow because it mirrors the work it relates to. It makes a lot of sense: it’s difficult to speak plainly, let alone elegantly or compellingly, about something you don’t understand or don’t see the point of.
As George Orwell said nearly 70 years ago, “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity”.