Points’: Kinder, Gentler Screwups
So a guy
comes to see me about doing some business with my company. As he’s
telling me about his firm I hop onto their web site for a look.
He is a partner, one of two. But when I look at their leadership
profiles, I see the other partner, but not him.
you?” I ask.
says. “We haven’t got me on there yet. That’s a failure point.”
point. That’s a failure point.”
I stare at
“You mean a
I am so
mean. The business world keeps inventing all these kinder and gentler
ways of talking about bad things, and I keep peeling back the veneers to
reveal the khaki-colored incisors underneath.
I mean the
there are those for whom failure just doesn’t seem quite so bad,
provided the word “point” is used to modify the description. It’s just a
point. Points don’t mean much. Even a free-throw is worth a point, and
those are easy to make unless you’re Shaquille O’Neal or Ben Wallace.
I suppose, would be a failure geyser, which just sprays the stuff high
in the air and douses anyone within a certain radius with hot, salty
failure. Some companies have failure quarters – like mine in the first
quarter of a certain year that starts with a two and ends with a six.
Those turn into failure halves, and pretty soon your CEO turns into a
failure on two legs.
not the only thing to which people in business like to attach
meaningless modification with the word “point.” Prices are another. If
you are trying to sell stuff, and you are really sophisticated, you
don’t discuss prices. You discuss “price points.”
price point,” you tell the manufacturer, “we can expect to move volume
on the order of 12,000 units.”
manufacturer writes that down. You are wise and knowledgeable.
But if you
say it like this – “At that price you’ll sell 12,000 of those things” –
your colleagues bury their faces in their hands and the manufacturer
starts looking at his watch.
Major failure point for you! They’re hiring at Taco Bell if that’s how
you’re going to talk.
there’s something to be said for softening the language that describes
some of our shortcomings in business. That quarter in which I lost all
that money? If I could figure out a way to somehow label it a “loss
leader,” it might make me feel a little better. But I’d still be
financing against my receivables to make payroll.
adding the word “point” to really bad words like failure, embezzlement,
layoff or bankruptcy doesn’t really make these things sound any better
to me. Perhaps Jeffrey Skilling will soon start looking beyond his
recent conviction point – if he can see past those bars he’ll be behind.
If it seems
too hurtful to call something a screwup, I propose we just go all the
way with the language manipulation and call it a “triumph”. It sounds a
heck of a lot better than “failure point,” and it advances the principle
that anything you do in business – including self-delusion – deserves
100 percent commitment at all times.
© 2006 North Star
Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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