Are you subject to lots of clichés? Are you a frequent user of clichés? Be careful. Phillip G Armour writes The Cliché Defense in his July 2009 Communications of the ACM "Business of Software" column:
A guide to playing the ploys frequently employed by cliché-driven management.
Unfortunately the full article is behind the Premium Content wall.
It's a fun piece because he goes through several common clichés and tears them apart. And it is always fun to by cynical with a little smile in your eye. Here are the ones he tackles:
- Do it right the first time.
- Work smarter, not harder.
- Quality is the most important thing.
- Our customers are the most important thing.
- Our people are the most important thing.
You might guess a trend with those last three. Armour discusses the cliché and the context in which it is used, what the subtext might be (generally negative toward the recipient of the cliché), and then a defense. He also warns that the defense is not for the weak of heart - or weak of humor.
In all cases, Armour's interpretation under the cover of the words is that the speaker is either insulting the recipient (you mean I usually do it wrong?), or missing large swaths of truth about business (quality is lacking, so I have to remind you it's important). The defense is either a smarmy comeback or just a data check: if we are important, do management behave in a way that confirms this statement?
How does this relate to knowledge management and personal effectiveness? My take is that clichés, can be useful or not, depending on where they show up. They can help make things make sense by referring to common themes, or using a familiar statement to reflect a deeper sentiment about the business. This can also turn on its head, as the examples in the article show. They all say something much more than was probably intended. And then there is always the simple misuse of clichés and metaphors. This often when the speaker uses them with people who aren't familiar with the original (usually non-native speakers of the language).
Photo: "Lisbon Cliché (aka Lovely Decadence)" by Rampant Gian.