Tag Archives: consultants

What a big Elephant in the room!

elephant in the room

Management “buzz phrases” are getting worse. You know the sort of phrase I mean don’t you?

“We need to touch base offline in order to think outside the box so that we can pick off some low hanging fruit and take a blue-sky approach.” If you go onto the Internet and try Googling “management jargon” or “consultant speak” you can find whole websites devoted to translating these often-preposterous phrases. I am sure you have come across many yourselves, either in your own companies or at conferences, or when dealing with consultants.

So now that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet (sorry that one slipped in under the radar), let me tell you about this new phrase. I first heard it at a recent conference. The speaker was addressing an issue about underwriting that we have faced in the industry for many years and he described the issue as, “elephant in the room”.

I thought that this was a very strange turn of phrase. Funny thing is though for a phrase I had never heard before it suddenly seemed to turn up everywhere I looked. On the very same day as the conference, whilst travelling back to Edinburgh I read an article in the paper and low and behold here was another “elephant in the room” – this time in the context of the airline industry. The following day I heard a politician talking about an elephant in their room (The Elephant in the Commons?), and then in a presentation from a group of visiting consultants – there it was again.

The problem was that on none of the occasions I heard this phrase did any of the people using it ever actually explain what it meant. In exasperation I resorted to Google and found out that an elephant in the room is a way of describing a huge problem that everyone knows exists but pretends to ignore rather than trying to solve it.

Now it had been explained to me I suppose it made a sort of sense – but why not just call it “our big problem”? Inventing a witty and meaningless phrase to describe an issue almost reduces it to a figure of fun, which makes it even easier to ignore than before.

This method of communication is spreading. You see it in job adverts for ridiculous sounding positions, in pamphlets from local Government, and in letters from just about any organisation. We need to resist this nonsense.

There’s only one way to fight back. Let’s start by taking a helicopter view of the current paradigm, have a brain dump of ideas by thinking off the page, perhaps with a little river jumping until we all have our ducks in a row about how to finesse the paradigm to allow us to ascend to the optimal outcome.