As many of you know, during my day job I slave away as an Everything Bagel at Trampley Nixon, the only federally-approved combination accounting firm/law firm/investment bank/financial services corporation in America. As a model of the kind of conglomerate that 21st-century corporations will all have to become in order to survive, Trampley Nixon is the anti-evolutionary corporate animal: the dinosaur descended from mammals. We do everything (not necessarily well), and while our slogan isn't the best ("We put the tramp in Trampley and the Dick in Nixon"), it's light years better than "On your backs for Goldman Sachs" or "Merrill Lynch, and vice versa."
And what do I do as an employee of TN? First of all, I'm not an actual employee--like almost all of the support staff in law firms and investment banks, I am an outside service provider who has been hired through a third-party staffing agency at a low-benefit no-healthcare salary to do whatever it is my immediate superiors want me to do on a given day. On July 2nd, before I left on vacation? I lost half a million on oil working the trading floor from 8 to 10, did paralegal work till lunchtime, and spent the rest of the day cooking the books for Budweiser in anticipation of their upcoming sale to InBev. I was also put in charge of updating the next edition of the LieBanker Dictionary, which used to be the province of Bear Stearns until their stock tanked (and guess who built the tank for them?) and they became a leisure service of JP Morgan.
Now and then I'll be blogging about all the fun things the lawyers, bankers and accountants at my company do. But for now, I'd like to share with you a list of several prominent buzzwords which showed up in one out of every five e-mails I plowed through when I got back from vacation:
BEST. When used as an adjective (as in “We expect you to do your best”) it means “no better than your immediate superior.” When used as part of an e-mail signature (as in “Best, Joanne”) it means “Fuck you.” (See also PLEASE ADVISE and JUST SO YOU KNOW.)
COMFORT ZONE. The gated community of incompetence. The place which managers want you to vacate so they can safely remain in theirs. Contrary to corporate mythology, Comfort Zones are not created by workers who are afraid to go beyond their limitations – their borders are actually established by the internal corporate culture and patrolled on a regular basis to make sure that (a) the right sort of people are protected inside it and (b) the expendable people are the ones who become targets outside it.
The best way to picture what Comfort Zones are and how they operate is to think of the Vietnam War. In this war, the enemy is a group of raiders called Victor Charles. They own the night, so nobody does any soldiering except during the day, and even then nobody with any brains ever (ever) humps outside the designated patrol route (the CZ). Any and all patrols which do end up outside the CZ are usually ordered by Rear Echelon Motherfuckers (REMFs) who are more than willing to see a grunt’s ass blown away so theirs can be saved. When grunts are accused of staying in their CZ or not going outside the CZ, it’s a sure sign that the REMFs are feeling the heat from Command, and need the corporate equivalent of a high body count mission in order to look good. In other words, it’s a given that no one in a position of actual power within a corporation will ever talk about “getting out of your comfort zone” unless his or her job is on the line.
Comfort Zone is also used as a synonym for the job you were actually hired to do, as opposed to the two or three jobs you will now be doing for no extra pay because some REMF laid off half of your co-workers.
FEDERAL BAILOUT. The lollipop that Uncle Sam shoves into his whining nephew's mouth to shut him up. When it occurs in Russia and pays failed companies millions of rubles to continue existing and repeating their failures, a bailout is socialism at its worst. When it occurs in the United States and basically rewards corporate stupidity with billions of dollars of taxpayer money, thus giving them no incentive at all to either learn a lesson or do their jobs well, a bailout is capitalism at its finest.
FOCUS ON THE ISSUE, NOT THE PERSONALITY. The accepted corporate euphemism for “We all know which arrogant asshole is the root of the problem here.”
GOING FORWARD. See MOVING FORWARD.
LEVERAGING THE FRANCHISE. Making sure that anyone who touches the Tar Baby that is your company gets totally covered by it. In fashion terms, wearing Nike clothes, sneakers, underwear and perfume. In Mafia terms, keeping it in the family. In racial terms, segregation. In political terms, paying the right kickbacks. In AA terms, only socializing with fellow ex-addicts because no one else can ever understand. In religious terms, making the Church the center of your life. In construction terms, getting your brother to lay the foundation, your sister to supply the lumber, your cousin to do the designs, your nephew to do the plumbing and electricity, and your father to sign off on the inspection.
MOVING FORWARD. “Let us never speak of this again.” Always used in relation to massive layoffs, the firing of high-level management, the “resignation” of high-level management, the out-of-court settlement of any and all lawsuits, and the payment of massive fines to the SEC. Currently used in relation to all losses and write-offs associated with the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis. The temporal aspect to this term (along with GOING FORWARD) implies that the internal corporate calendar has been reset as of this moment to Day One, Year Zero, like the French Revolution; and (like the French Revolution) a lot of heads will roll every time this happens.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. The corporate equivalent of saying “Hello -- we’ve pigeon-holed and cookie-cuttered your ass since B School. Now do something we didn’t train you for.” In creative terms, saving your job by coming up with an idea that no one has thought of before so your boss can take credit for it. In financial terms, finding a loophole in the regulations that no one has thought of exploiting before. In reality, a double insult, since it implies that (a) the person telling you to think this way is incapable of doing it himself and (b) he’ll be the one vetting whatever you come up with, from his secure position (cough) inside the box (cough). It's like a fish being asked to think of something outside water, and when you come up with the idea of air, your boss fish scratches his gills and says "Air, huh? What the fuck is air?" and promotes some grouper who has this great new way to look at wet sand. And always remember: along with “getting out of your comfort zone,” “thinking outside the box” is a phrase that is never used unless the tumbrels are getting ready to carry a fresh load of aristos to Madame De Guillotine.
TOXYMORON. An expression that is so stupidly contradictory that hearing it spoken aloud is like having someone pour hydrochloric acid in your ears. Examples: “Thinking outside the box is a no-brainer.” “We will continue to be a world-class franchise moving forward.” And the classic "Just so you know, 'Please advise' is an invitation, not a command. Best, Dick."