Friday, July 10, 2015

A Corporate Jargon Buster


A 2-Pager by Ajit Chaudhuri – July 2015


I did two things last year – I joined the corporate sector, and I shifted to Mumbai. Both were pretty big deals! I had never done time in the corporate sector and didn’t even know anyone from there. And as for Mumbai, like most Delhi-wallahs I used to find the city dirty, smelly and intimidating and avoided it to the extent possible.

It’s been OK (so far), and I have been surprised! The corporate sector has not turned out to be overflowing with alpha scumbags pushing and shoving their way to the C-suite, and it has been somewhat comforting to realize that meetings here are as long and unproductive as they were in NGOs and that my skills in being fast asleep or scoring goals in the football world cup and cavorting with supermodels while looking attentive and engaged in the discussion are as much required now as they were earlier. And as for the city, I am slowly discovering that there is more to it than Shiv Sainiks and train commuters; that amidst the high-rises are some beautiful old buildings, that its pavements are walkable and its traffic is chaotic but unaggressive, and that it has its eccentricities (for example, its famous insularity applies as much within as it does outside – for the Colaba-walla, the act of crossing Peddar Road is undertaken with the same reluctance that you and I would go to Bihar, and others use the word ‘sobo’, not particularly politely, to describe the South Mumbaikar).

Anyway – to the purpose of this note! I have noticed that I am not the first migrant from academia, development and consulting to move to the corporate sector, and I will not be the last – there are opportunities here and the salaries are good. Those of you looking to move here will need to adjust to the peculiarities of the sector; the hierarchical mode of functioning, the humungous quantum of email to be dealt with, the working lunch, et al. And one of these is the language of corporate-speak.

This note looks to identify terms and phrases that are ubiquitous here but not heard (by me) elsewhere, and thereby prepare wannabe or recent migrants for linguistic survival. It describes a selected ten from a long list detailed in the table below.


The Long List

30,000 feet
Asset light model
Back of the envelope
Blue sky
Closing the loop
CXO, C-suite
Deep dive
Long list
Messaging Corridor
Non value added activity
Quick wins
Speaking above one’s pay grade
Stretch target
White space




A Short Description of a Select Few

30,000 feet: A higher level view or perspective of a situation, seeing its larger picture and its strategic linkages rather than its details.

Bandwidth: You can’t say ‘piss off, I’m busy’ to someone who is giving you work that you can’t or don’t want to do, you say ‘I have limited bandwidth at the moment’.

Deep dive: The move from 30,000 feet to the details is a deep dive.

Granular: Your lazy minions need to get back to work and put in some rigour and detail into their presentation – you say ‘would you like to bring in some granularity?’

Hard stop: A meeting is meandering on and Real Madrid is going to play FC Barcelona in 30 minutes – you get collective agreement on a hard stop in 15.

Non value added activity: Bumming around the coffee machine, discussing last night’s match, sharing info on the shopping in the vicinity of the office and gossiping about a colleague’s wandering eye, all the useless stuff that makes life in the rabbit warren of junior management bearable, actually constitutes non value added activity.

Pushback: When the company has acquired land from tribal communities for mining or whatever against their will, and there has been an armed insurgency against this in which your executives have been kidnapped and their testicles chopped off, you don’t say ‘Boss, we are in deep shit’ to your reporting officer. You say ‘Sir, there is some pushback from the locals’.

Speaking above one’s pay-grade: This refers to a gaffe that those of us not used to hierarchical structures tend to commit in our early and stupid days in the corporate sector, when we are falsely confident of our own expertise and the openness of higher echelons within the organization to our opinions. We soon figure out that it is hara-kiri to ‘speak above one’s pay grade’.

SPOC: Not from Star Trek but an acronym for Single Point of Contact – when you are taking forward an activity that cuts across departments or divisions, you need a SPOC from each else you will be knee-deep in non-value added activity handling the coordination, for which you are unlikely to have sufficient bandwidth.

White space: I have yet to find an acceptable way to say ‘this is pure and unadulterated bullshit’ in office, or that a ‘monumental f**k up’ has happened, and this constitutes a white space in corporate jargon. Any suggestions?



Ajit Chaudhuri said...


I see that you have been keeping yourself very busy playing our SPOC with the corporate world and introducing some mirth in our non value added activities!
Many thanks,
Warm regards,
Kuheli Sen

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

This was hilarious...I could so totally identify with this. I will take a break of 1 minute from all the non-value added activity my bandwidth is usually occupied with, to read it once again and try and do a deep dive into the reasons for my continuing to be a corporate slave and conforming to stereotypes...

Well, my one minute is over so I have to put a hardstop here..

All the nonsense aside, enjoyed reading it completely .....salut to Mr. Chaudhuri....

Sunipa Ghosh

Ajit Chaudhuri said...


Working on the white space………

Vandana Menon

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Dear Chau,

Thank you.

This is just to let you know that I have been receiving your 'Two-Pagers' and I continue to read them with amazement since it reflects your diverse reading over many years and your own peculiar 'take' on the world - mean in equal measure to shock and to make one ponder.

With affection,
VK Madhavan

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

And its back!

The definition of 'push back' is out of this world!

Warm Regards,

Sourav Roy

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Too good!!! You're certainly talking the walk!!!!


Radhika Roy

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

This indeed was fun. Thank you.

Liby Johnson

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Thanks Ajit. Thanks for three things. Firstly, I am happy you are back to your two pages. Secondly you have written well,​ I can see Ajit back in action. Thirdly, thanks for introducing me to something I had not heard of before. I shall keep it mind next time I talk to somebody from Corporate!

Keep it up.

I now realize i need to move away from my deep dive to ✈30000 ft!!

(By the by, we also use the term 30000 feet but in a completely different way, meaning from 30000 feet every thing looks alike and you cant figure out the difference ☺)



Pravin Mahajan

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Ajit - so very very glad you wrote ... the one on PUSHBACK had me laughing out loud the longest :) :)

Neelima Khetan

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Hi Chau,

I really haven't been reading all of them, but this one I did ..and it was hilarious. I am going to forward it to a few of my friends.

Meeta Vadera

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Oh good you are back to it. Nice. Hadn't heard most of them. I am still struggling with the term verticals. In the office space I mean.

Sriparna G. Chaudhuri

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Hi Ajit.

Nice to hear from you after a long time. I too am partly there, in Care India, Bihar with few NGO types but similar jargon and email load and yes, generally the same rules to speak within your pay grade.

Yet, some of the corporate speak was new, thanks.

Dr. Sunil Kaul

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Chau this is super duper. Does the corporate sector also not believe in failures but call them learnings :):).

Arun S. Nathan