The New Universal Language

Posted by Richard Moran.

There is a new universal language. It crept in sometime between the advent of the first fax machine and the death of the pager that we wore on our belts.  A quick quiz of most people about the universal language will generate responses like:·      A kiss.  It is the global signal of love, although there are very few with whom I want to communicate with this language.·      The middle finger.  Everyone knows what it means and it is not good to be the recipient of the message so this language carries some unfortunate baggage.  It is a language that almost always makes someone feel really bad.·      English.  Since most Americans speak no other language, we have imposed this language on the rest of the universe.·      Music.  A preferred language by all but now that MySpace has bazillions of bands and artists on it, there are too many dialects of the language.  Which is better, Bach or Beastie Boys?·      Food.  Before salmonella, South Beach Diet and going vegan, this was a good language.  Now it seems cluttered with too many celebrity chefs telling you how to communicate in this language·      Money.  Once the banks, the dollar, the stock market and the price of oil recover, this could be a good language again.  In the meantime, money is an inconsistent language. All the communication turmoil, leaves just one universal language – PowerPoint. Bill Gates may go down in history for his riches and for eliminating malaria and solving so many world problems, but his real contribution will be the creation of PowerPoint as the universal language. Wikipedia says that “a universal language is a hypothetical, historical or mythical language said to be spoken and understood by all or most of the world’s population.  … it may be the primary language of all speakers, or the only existing language; in others, it is a fluent secondary language used for communication between groups speaking different primary languages. Some mythological or religious traditions state that there was once a single universal language among all people, or shared by humans and supernatural beings; this is not supported by historical evidence.” The historical evidence is now all around us.

  • We speak in headlines backed up by a few bullets
  • Entire books are written of just bullets.  (See Nuts, Bolts and Jolts)
  • My children use PowerPoint in their grammar school everyday.
  • Meetings will not start until the projector warms up to show the PowerPoint presentation.
  • The three letters PPT are as well known as FYI, and IBM, LOL.
  • The phrase “Next Steps” is now as welcome as “Free” or “This is Not A Bill”.
  • Companies are being formed to distribute PPT presentations.

Next StepsThe good news about PPT is that it is efficient.  The bad news is that it is often not effective unless accompanied by a non-virtual person.  As a communication tool it needs to tell a story.  That’s all.  As the new universal language PowerPoint needs to tell as story.

Out Of the Air

Posted by Richard Moran.

Image taken from

You have to see it.  Have to.


The advice is about the movie “Up in the Air,” any everyone who works for a consulting firm, or has ever worked for a consulting firm, has heard that sentence by now.  As a former Accenture Partner, I heard, “You have to see it” and I saw it.  The movie is good and I see why the road warrior consultant can identify with it.

The truth is that real life on the road is worse than depicted in the movie.  Navigating the airports and security is worse than depicted in the movie.  First class is not likely.  Dealing with hotels is worse than depicted in the movie.  Maybe looking like George Clooney is the secret.   Dealing with weather problems is the big variable that makes life on the road miserable.  And, sometimes, dealing with clients is worse than the movie shows.

Night life when on the road may not start until 10PM because that’s how long you spend working.  So there is no night life because you are too tired.  Dinner is likely to be a bad room service meal eaten in front of a television.

Since the life is not a good one, and everyone knows it when in the middle of it, the main reward is food.  So to compound the problems, life on the road usually means gaining weight which makes you feel more miserable.  The best part of life on the road is returning home.

The movie should be required viewing of anyone thinking of going into a career that requires a lot of travel.  The simple rules that the movie points out are worth repeating:

  • Never check a bag.
  • Always wear loafers though security and always get behind others wearing loafers

Contrary to the movie premise, the one with the most frequent flyer miles does not win.  Being in the 1K Club at United is not a good thing.  If the sound of a zipper closing on a suitcase makes your children cry, you are flying too much.

Now, about the sex thing in the movie.  I once had a senior executive tell me, “What happens on the road, stays on the road.”  Maybe it happens and I sort of heard about it from time to time, but it sure isn’t the life of any consultants I know.


Workplace Words: Some Authentic, Some, Not So Much

Posted by Richard Moran.

Buzzwords in business come and go and right now there is a pretty good crop of good and bad ones circulating among the cubicle world.  Some are whispered in hushed tones next to the refrigerator note that shouts, “This Fridge Will be emptied of every thing except salad dressing every Friday at 3:00!”  Others show up on every page of a 60 page power point deck.   But, at the end of the day, the paradigm for mission critical buzz words is never about the total quality of the thought; it’s about the value add to the value added thought outside the box.


As we enter the new decade, here are some of my favorite words and phrases, and others, that are already mind numbingly repeated although no one knows what they mean.


  • It’s complicated – A perfect phrase to describe everything we now know about business and the universe.  These two (or is it three?) simple words can answer any question: How is your love life?  Worried about your job?  Any luck with your project?  How long do you think you will last in this job?  The perfect answer that connotes substance but probably more than you need to know – It’s complicated.


  • Fair Enough – Could be a comment, could be an answer, could be a question, could be a filler when no one else is saying anything. Could also mean, You are a jerk and know nothing of what you say but now you’ve said it so, “fair enough”. It hits my list since it crops up often and can be used in so many ways.


  • Not so much – A perfect description of life in the workplace that sins on the side of negativity without being offensive.  Can easily be a proper response to questions like:  Hey, do you like your new boss?  Are you thinking about retiring on your 401K these days?  Boy, those people in Washington are doing a good job, huh?


  • Regifting – A phrase that hit all the headlines this year.  It is in the same category of staycation, Maverick and Tea Party Patriots.  When I hear these words they make me ask myself, Do I want to get involved?  Not so much. 

  • I’m Good – The most reassuring phrase out there that too, has many meanings.  When waiting to meet someone, if the receptionist asks if you want a coffee or water, the response can be “I’m good.”  When falling off the roof while cleaning out the gutters and your wife asks if you are ok, the response can be the same, “I’m good.”  After a layoff, this is a desired response.  A close relative to “I’m good” is “I got it.”  Can apply to catching a ball in center field or a way to say, “You don’t have to say anymore, I understand.”   It’s a good phrase to employ to start doing and stop talking which is always a good thing.


  • New Normal – Although on the verge of being over used, this is a worthy phrase to reconcile expectations.  For most of us, the new normal means the same way it used to be, just with a lot less.

  • That Feels About Right – A welcome phrase used in any context but is especially welcome when asking for approval while in the front of a conference room giving a presentation.  It implies “we could probably get more data but that won’t make us any smarter so let’s just go ahead, good work.”

  • Hiking the Appalachian Trail – We have the Governor of South Carolina to thank for this one.  When you hear he or she is out “hiking the Appalachian…” it could mean a missing persons report is being filed;  it could mean there is sex with South Americans involved or it could mean there are a lot of clueless people around who think they are not going to get caught for whatever they are doing.  It is a phrase to avoid when it comes to your own life.

  • In the phrases full of friction category and ones that will go away soon, I hope, some of my favorites are:


Become a Fan – I like being a fan of the San Francisco Giants but I don’t want to be a fan of Edna’s scones.

Skill up– I think this means get smarter and more equipped to do your job.  Is that new?

Fat Content– I don’t need any more reasons to feel guilty.  When referring to an organization, there are better ways to  describe too many people.  Let me enjoy my cheesecake.

Narrow Aperture – I think this means focus on the most important things that need to be done.  This is another phrase that makes me feel guilty for not paying attention in Photography class.


Work today seems be made up of ambiguous victories and nebulous defeats.  Let’s at least make life in 2010 a little more bearable by using words and phrases that make us smile, just a little.