head of the snake

Posted on August 16, 2017

a term used to indicate, without sounding too haughty about it, that one is the boss or otherwise holds chief responsibility for the subject in question, as in “When it comes to technology strategy I’m the head of the snake”; in this way one can simultaneously assert authority and disarm the listener who might be wary of any pretenses that come with this position; as with much jargon it appears to have been repurposed from a more general and sinister usage, in which the head of the snake refers to the primary leader of an enemy force, without whom the overall threat it presents would drop significantly; no such implications are contemplated in the business use of this term

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Posted on August 9, 2017

a tangled, indeterminate mess of processes, usually represented in a visual diagram as a nearly inscrutable web of lines, boxes, colors, or other adornments; often presented without irony by the manager of said processes, who is so deeply embedded within the system that he fails to notice the baroque nature of what he oversees; referring to something with this term acknowledges the inelegance while avoiding a negative or accusatory tone; as with cats, organizations often gag on these

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hands on keys

Posted on August 2, 2017

a mild, potentially peevish exhortation to resume working; references the computer keyboard, with the implication that hands presently idle should resume tapping away, creating value or finding uplift or suchlike things; generally interjected after a lull in activity or period of digression, as in “Alright guys, we’ve talked about this enough, hands on keys”; this jargon is based on the commonly-held notion that visible activity is synonymous with productivity, an assumption that does not always prove to be true

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guardrail to guardrail

Posted on July 26, 2017

to careen wildly between two extremes, usually implying out-of-control activity due to narrow focus on some other objective, as in “They tripled the advertising budget last quarter but after the earnings miss they want to zero it out, Marketing is just going guardrail to guardrail”; evokes the image of a driver speeding down a highway and narrowly missing crashing into the protective barriers on both edges of the road; can also be used to describe reckless or unthinking behavior without connoting a binary constraint; in rare instances may be used as an adjectival phrase, as in “Tom’s strategic vision is all over the place, his thinking is just guardrail to guardrail”

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out of pocket

Posted on July 19, 2017

a baffling term used to indicate unavailability, although the nature or owner of said pocket remains unknown; perhaps developed through mistaken conflation of ‘out of town’ with the standard phrase ‘out of pocket,’ which indicates expenses borne personally; in a business context the propensity to avoid simple, perfectly serviceable words like ‘unavailable’ or ‘unreachable’ that could connote a lack of team spirit has further driven usage of this term; a competing school of thought contends that this phrase has its roots in American football, when the quarterback leaves the area of protection afforded by his linesmen, though there is scant evidence to support this etymology 1

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  1. Confusion over the derivation of this term is widespread, with other speculative origins abounding on the internet, although none are definitive. It is noted as as a regionalism in parts of the Southern United States and has been attested in print as early as 1908, placing it among the limited examples of jargon that was not conjured up de novo by business types. 


Posted on July 12, 2017

(verb) additional revenues prospectively or actually gained over a baseline condition, as in “The new Asia strategy should lead to at least fifty million in uplift”; used somewhat evasively when the frank mention of lucre would be unseemly, thus attempting to avoid any negative connotations from foregrounding the fact that yes, this is money we’re talking about, and the acquisition of greater amounts is the driver behind the action in question; this usage stands in stark contrast to the definition common outside of business contexts, in which uplift generally refers to moral or social improvement

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Posted on July 5, 2017

(verb) to put firm boundaries on the period that will be spent on a certain task, with the implication that the necessary work can be finished within this allotment or that schedule adherence is more critical than completion, as in: “Bill, don’t work too long on that model, you need to timebox it and move on”; the concept is found in various formal project management methodologies that seek to manage schedules and prevent the user from getting bogged down in one activity to the detriment of the larger initiative; in the generic business context the term is often used for work of a lower priority

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pave the cowpath

Posted on June 28, 2017

to cause a random or archaic process, approach or system to become formally adopted or codified; stems from the folklore that street patterns in certain towns (e.g., Boston) were developed by paving the tracks worn into the earth by the meanderings of cattle; can suggest that due care has not been expended in determining whether an approach is optimal; also implies that the subsequent investments built around these paths will be too costly to change, as that would require the wholesale redesign of entrenched city infrastructure; alternatively, a more positive meaning is simply to improve effectiveness by enhancing an organization’s informal processes

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take off the blinders

Posted on June 21, 2017

to figuratively remove those constraints which narrow one’s field of vision, leading one to consider an issue in its entirety without assuming that current or historical limitations hold sway; the phrase originates from the practice of blocking a horse’s peripheral vision to prevent distraction from the path ahead and to keep the typically flighty animal from startling; can be derogatory in implication if this instruction is directed at a single individual, who is thereby insinuated to be insufficiently creative, flexible, or broad-minded

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Posted on June 14, 2017

a term used to indicate the ultimate result, sum up a meandering conversation, or introduce a note of finality to one’s point; derives from the accounting term in which net profits are the final line on an income statement after all deductions have been made; a general aversion to using monosyllabic terms by themselves (i.e. ‘net’) and a penchant for sounding clever has led to this unnecessary duplication (non-modifier or declamatory jargon is almost never monosyllabic)

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