the Business of software
the Cliché defense
A guide to playing the ploys frequently employed by cliché-driven management.
THere is a
by certain types of managers
in certain types of organizations to manage with maxims and administer with an-tendency exhibited
ecdotes. Their style often consists of a
warmed-over serving of the latest business self-help book garnished with an
old war story and a side of the patently
obvious. Such people can show a remarkable dedication to oversimplification and a common trait of this
managerial style is the persistent use
of the cliché.
A good cliché has several attributes:
˲ It covers a wide range of human
behavior with just a few words.
˲ It sounds specific and focused but
doesn’t actually say much.
˲ It favors style over substance, pretence over production, and affect over
˲ It has a veneer of truth that makes
it plausible and difficult to argue
˲ It must suggest a solution to a
problem without requiring the person
using the cliché (the cliché-er) to actually invest any energy in implementing
˲ It should leave the work of resolving the cliché to the unlucky listener (the cliché-ee). This allows any
success to be claimed by the cliché-er, while locating the blame for any
shortcomings in the implementation
firmly on the shoulders of the unfortunate cliché-ee.
How does one defend against
cliché-driven management? I have
seen whole teams play the “buzzword
bingo” game, gleefully tagging the
hackneyed slogans of the oblivious
manager. I know of senior executives
in large companies who are the unwitting source of merriment for whole divisions based on their fine grasp of the
obvious and their predictable production of clichés for all occasions.
The use of clichés is usually quite
harmless, though it may detract from
actually trying real solutions to real
problems. There are legitimate defenses against certain clichés, but I
must caution readers that some of
these defenses use a technique called
“humor.” The best humor is shared between the parties involved and reflects
the comedy that exists in the situation. Use of a cliché defense as way of
publicly poking fun at the person who
is responsible for your continued employment has its perils.
ILLUSTRATION BY MARIA SChNEIDER
The Cliché: “Do it Right
the first Time”
Much of the business of software involves the discovery of what we are supposed to be doing. In a true discovery
activity, it is only possible to not make