We all know them. Sometimes they pop into our conversation without even thinking about it. Other times they are delivered with great intent. Business cliches are without question one of the most controversial ways we use to try and communicate the mundane. In Texas, there is a history of great sayings like “that dog don’t hunt” and “all hat and no cattle.” Who knows where these sayings truly originate from, but they stick because people understand what they mean. Even if they do not like it.
Throughout my professional career I have worked in higher education and in for profit environments and the same cliches and buzz words find their way into presentations, meetings, and cocktail parties. I have studied leadership writers and theories (Bennis, Covey, Maxwell, Yoda, etc.) for many years. Whether you are a “Quiet Leader,” or a disciple of “The Art of War” communication and vision are at the top of every leader’s to do list. The need to communicate with the most people in the fewest amount of words is perhaps what makes cliches valuable. There is a shared experience that is going on with cliches and I recently started to wonder what are we really trying to communicate when we use these sayings and how do they relate to vision.
Square Peg/Round Hole
“That is a square peg/round hole situation” is something colleagues have heard from me on more than one occasion. In my mind this is a way of communicating that we are not thinking about the end goal and we are either applying an invalid strategy, or do not have the right talent in place to achieve our goals. The pieces do not fit together. Jim Collins would say that most “Built to Last” companies have identified their shape and do not change it. They may change the product or the process but the principles do not change. This cliché is a way of protecting the culture and principles of an organization by identifying a potential problem.
That Dog Don’t Hunt
Cliches are intended to have a definitive impact on a conversation. They are meant to change direction. Everyone is looking for the next great idea, innovation, or way to improve their “return on investment.” I have been part of organizations that believed every idea should be “run up the flag pole.” Sometimes though, you really need someone that will just say “that dog don’t hunt.” A Southern expression that creatively expresses that an idea or plan is just not going to work. Exploring ideas takes time and resources, and most businesses do not have that luxury. Again, this ties back to knowing what you are trying to do and who you are trying to serve. Without this clarity, every dog gets to hunt but very few get to eat.
30,000 Foot View
I have a former boss who loved this one. If you are a visual learner, than vision is maybe best experienced from the window seat of an airplane. The perspective from above the clouds certainly changes the way we think about size and scale. This must have been the origin of the “30,000 foot view.” Most likely from a note scribbled on a cocktail napkin by an executive in a first class airline seat in the mid 80’s. Actually, I think author David Allen gets credit for this academically, but many meetings and conversations focus on the micro-level day-to-day details and not the big picture. These details are critical, but decisions need to flow from the 30,000 foot vision. Good leaders are able to bring all elements of their organization into this big picture view and create “synergy” by activating each role as a part of achieving this vision.
There are endless amounts of cliches and buzz words that people use to try and get their ideas and perspectives heard. By now, you have probably already started thinking about your most and least favorites. They are an effort to draw attention and increase impact by departing from the normal conversation conventions. I think everyone tires of these cliches, especially buzz words, and they even draw eye rolls if over used, but there is no denying that they have an impact, because of the shared understanding. These sayings simplify complex situations, clarify principles and help drive consensus when used appropriately creating a “win-win situation.” So use them sparingly and wisely, because they truly can be a “game changer.”