A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
December 14th, 2012 by William

The Beeblebrox Syndrome

Last week I read an interesting article on the CNBC website that got me thinking. The article, “2012’s Most Overused Buzzwords,” CNBC, 12/6/12 detailed the most overused buzzwords found on LinkedIn profiles. For the second year in a row, “creative” topped the list. The top 10 detailed in the article included:

  1. Creative
  2. Organizational
  3. Effective
  4. Motivated
  5. Extensive experience
  6. Track record
  7. Innovative
  8. Responsible
  9. Analytical
  10. Problem solving

These are not the buzzwords most heard echoing the halls of business these days−those were detailed in a previous post−the buzzwords above are different−these are the ones we use in our resumes (and LinkedIn profile) to fluff ourselves up with bullshit in the hopes that it will hornswoggle someone into hiring us. Of course we can also intensify the BS by pairing these up to produce an even more vague bullshit smokescreen, e.g. “innovative problem solver.” The fact is we didn’t create this necessity; these same buzzwords are found in job descriptions written by companies in their attempt to add discriminators to help them ferret out potential candidates. In fact it’s these buzzwords in the job descriptions that force us all to have to parrot them back in our resumes.

They all sound so professional and attributes we truly want to believe describe ourselves. From the management perspective these are all attributes we wish we had in our underlings. But what do these words “really” mean? Let’s take a look. Here’s the list again with my take on the true meaning:

  1. Creative (able to doodle in a meeting and look like you’re interested and taking copious notes)
  2. Organizational (means you can keep up with the best of the sociopaths in the organization when practicing self-serving interpersonal gamesmanship)
  3. Effective (probably confused with “efficient” because few understand the difference)
  4. Motivated (comes to work every day)
  5. Extensive experience (a job hopper)
  6. Track record (everybody has one and they’re not necessarily good)
  7. Innovative (can make things up as you go−of course this isn’t all bad−the sense of urgency mentality of most organizations requires this ability)
  8. Responsible (the dictionary definition of this is: being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it−blame being the operative word)
  9. Analytical (defined as: pertaining to or proceeding by analysis−constantly searching for the facts−thus contradicting the claim that you’re innovative)
  10. Problem solving (able to firefight−the thing you’ll spend most of your time doing thus the only thing most people can do “effectively”)

The irony is that based on the above definitions you just may have all these skills.

Let’s take one of these and dig a little deeper. I personally find the last one on the list the most interesting because it reveals a lot into what the modern workplace is all about. In our resumes we respond to this job description requirement with phrases like;

  • Expert problem solver
  • Creative problem solver
  • Strategic problem solver
  • Innovative problem solver

But what does being a good “problem solver” really mean in the business world? For most companies when they include this in a job description they are just admitting that they value fire-fighting over pre-planning and effectiveness, i.e., true proactiveness. They include this because they, consciously or subconsciously, admit they are a “reactive,” not “proactive,” organization.

True proactiveness means tending to initiate change rather than reacting to events−so if you’re truly proactive, problems shouldn’t happen in the first place. Thus what may be a more beneficial buzzword to use would be: “problem avoider.” Of course don’t get me wrong, the ability to “solve” problems still exists because “surprise” problems do still happen in the workplace regardless of how truly proactive we are.

Stringing together buzzwords makes these idiotic phrases little better than doubletalk (bullshit) and doesn’t make them anymore a real estimate of your capabilities. In my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw I make the case that bullshit fuels the engine of modern business, and nowhere is it more true than on job descriptions and resumes.

Experts estimate that over 50% of job applicants lie on their resumes to embellish their credentials and cover letters are notorious for embellishment and exaggeration. The fact is most resumes are written with a specific job in mind, crafted to address a specific job description. Few people create a generic resume any more that they send out to all job openings. It’s a game to see how well you can parrot back the buzzwords used in the job description seamlessly into your resume.

The sad part is that this practice isn’t limited to the meaningless words above−many people also parrot back more concrete and critical capabilities that they don’t really have−witness many LinkedIn profiles−it’s a game to see how many “skills and expertises” they can add to their profile.

The problem is we start believing the bullshit we fabricate on our resumes and profiles and the reality is most often we don’t know what these words really mean. Do you think people really know what it means to be creative? Shakespeare was creative; you’re probably not (unless your use my definition above). This contributes to the largely narcissist, self-serving attitudes that permeate the modern workplace and why resumes, in and of themselves, are worthless as a gauge to determining whether someone is the perfect candidate for a job.

This mentality to have to use (i.e., to bullshit) the latest and vague buzzwords to pump ourselves up and make us look good, is what I call “The Beeblebrox Syndrome.” This is named after one of the lead characters, Zaphod Beeblebrox, in Douglas Adams’ humorous science fiction story; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the book, Beeblebrox is opportunistic and narcissistic and lacks any empathy for those around him. His famous quote; “If there’s anything more important than my ego around here, I want it caught and shot now,” explains The Beeblebrox Syndrome perfectly.


2 Responses to “The Beeblebrox Syndrome”
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