Taking the Bull Out of Business

Wednesday, June 25, 2003



This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, June 24, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The following informational statement is intended as an introductory description about the translational paradigm between business jargon and incomprehensible English.

In other words, it's time for big business to cut the bull. Here's a real example of business bull:

"We excel at the dissemination of scalable, extensive, global initiatives and their socialization throughout an entire enterprise.”

Here's the translation:

"We work on large, challenging products."

Apparently, plain English is too much of a challenge. Brian Fugere is a partner at Deloitte Consulting. And that is today's big question. Why is language in business of the kind that nobody understands?

BRIAN FUGERE, DELOITTE CONSULTING: Well, John, we think if you don't have anything better to say, you make it up and you use jargon. And if we look at what's happened in the tech explosion in the last few years, there wasn't enough to say and companies made it up and used jargon.

GIBSON: Are these people lying by obfuscating English?

FUGERE: No. No. They're not lying. And jargon has a place in business. It's good shorthand. But when you use it to talk to people outside your community who don't understand it, it just obscures and just makes things a lot less clear.

GIBSON: There is a point to this. You put out a CD-Rom called “Bullfighter,” right?


GIBSON: It teaches you how to avoid the bull and speak in plain English. Let me ask you a question. Does anybody in business want to speak in plain English?

FUGERE: I think there is a huge demand for it. The response to “Bullfighter” has been overwhelming. It's really struck a chord and people are hungry for clear communications. I think investors really want it.

GIBSON: We know investors would. They are the ones who are being taken with this bogus language, right?

FUGERE: We read Enron (search) documents and communications through “Bullfighter” in the three years prior to all their trouble. As they were getting deeper and deeper into trouble, their communications were getting more and more obscure.

GIBSON: Are they proud of this when they produce stuff like... let me read one of these:

"This assumes an even greater importance when we repurpose global value… to jump-start scoping and visioning."

FUGERE: I think, John, some of it probably goes back to business school where we are kind of taught that talking smart makes you seem smart. It just obscures what is really happening. And there is a huge need in corporate America today to cut out the bull and to make things clearer.

GIBSON: I'm taking a little harder attitude about this. I think these people are lying about this stuff. They were trying to get people to invest in companies that had nothing. Enron was going down in flames. They all knew it. You say it yourself, as they were going deeper and deeper into trouble, the line got thicker and thicker with this obscure language.

FUGERE: There's no doubt if you have something to hide, then you're going to use jargon and you're going to use obscure language. There is no doubt about that.

GIBSON: What is synergy, AOL-Time Warner (search) loved it. Is it something real or is it a bull word?

FUGERE: Well, it's a favorite bull word. There are some times when it makes sense. Why not just use "combine"? Why not just use "put together"? You know, there are easier ways to describe it.

GIBSON: Now are people who go out and invest, are they looking for this language? “Hey, look at this stuff. These guys are scalable and they're excisable and what's that word, visioneers, like pioneers?”

FUGERE: I think people have an intuitive sense when they are being snowed. What we've done is put some science to it. We've built a tool that will actually score documents and give you an objective, quantifiable measure of that type of communication. So, people kind of know it when they see it, but it is nice to have something to actually measure it.

GIBSON: Okay, so, this product, you stick it in your computer, you scan in the official document, and you run it through and this starts sending off alarm bells?

FUGERE: What it will do, it is a software tool that runs on Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. There is a tool bar up on your PC. When you run a document through it, it will do two things. It will flag jargon and suggest an alternative and it will give you a bull score, if you get between one and ten. If you get 10, your document is clear and direct. If you get one, you're hopelessly obscure. And then you can edit your document and improve your bull score.

GIBSON: People talk to me in my ear while I'm doing interviews, and someone from the control room says, “Would it melt if you ran a political speech through it?”

FUGERE: We ran all the modern state of the union addresses through it and, as you might guess, there were some good ones and some bad ones.

GIBSON: The best gets a 10, that's good?

FUGERE: It didn't get a 10, but it scored well. It was George Bush Sr. The worst was Herbert Hoover (search).

GIBSON: Well, I guess that's not surprising. We got the Depression out of him. How about the two most recent G.W. Bush and Bill Clinton?

FUGERE: G.W. scored very well. He was third out of the 40 that we ran. And Bill Clinton surprised us. He was fifth out of the 40.

GIBSON: But wait a minute here. Bill Clinton said, “I did not have sex with that woman.” Nothing could be clearer and nothing was farther from the truth.

FUGERE: Well, Bullfighter cannot detect those kinds of things.

GIBSON: It is not a truth defector.

FUGERE: It's not a truth detector. No. No. It's not at all.

GIBSON: How much should people expect to be bulled in the kind of communication they receive from politicians or businesses or anybody?

FUGERE: I don't think there's any room for it. We need straight talk, and particularly today, transparency and trust is so important. We really need straight talk. We really need clarity in communication. Our economy will perform better the straighter we talk. We looked at the Dow 30. We ran all 30 companies through it. Straighter-talking companies outperformed nonstraight-talking companies consistently. This is a big business issue. You know, we took a fun approach it to because we think it is good to give people a little humor with their medicine. But it is a serious business issue.

GIBSON: Okay. It's called “Bullfighter”. It isn't as big as a book, because it's just a CD with a little bit of explanation. Brian, thank you very much. And good luck with it. No bull here.

FUGERE: Thanks John.

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