In 2016, Jessica Helfand, an author and a founder of the website Design Observer, was invited to teach at Yale School of Management. The idea was that Helfand could instruct grad students in the art of creative thinking, which they could then use to start companies and make money. She immediately developed a contact allergy to the way her students spoke. “It started the first week I was there. After the lecture, a student said, ‘Well, my takeaway is …,’ and I thought, ‘Takeaway’ is what you do with food in London. Maybe instead of a takeaway, you could sit with the ideas for a while and just … think.” Helfand compiled a list of commonly bandied-about words and divided them into categories like Hyphenated Mash-ups (omni-channel, level-setting, business-critical), Compound Phrases (email blast, integrated deck, pain point, deep dive) and Conceptual Hybrids (“shooting” someone an email, “looping” someone in). All of these were phrases with “aspirational authority,” she told me. “If you’re in a meeting and you’re a 20-something and you want to sound in the know, you’re going to use those words.” It drove Helfand nuts. This
There’s an early Edith Wharton story where a character observes the constraints of speaking a foreign tongue: “Don’t you know how, in talking a foreign language, even fluently, one says half the time, not what one wants to, but what one can?” To put it another way: Do CEOs act like jerks because they are jerks, or because the language of management will create a jerk of anyone eventually?