10 Foolproof Ways to Spot BS at Work

The pushback didn’t surprise me, since it’s easier to laugh at passé fads than management fads that are currently providing employment for thousands of consultant and are been deeply embedded in your company’s mission statement.

For the past 25 years, a big part of my job has been detecting and exposing various forms of business bullsh*t; I even wrote a minor bestseller explaining how to avoid bullsh*t in the workplace. Spotting bullsh*t is a crucial skill because then you know to be elsewhere when the bullsh*t hits the fan… as it always eventually does.

Trying to debunk business bullsh*t and management fads one by one is like playing Whack-a-Mole, so rather than keep doing it solo, I’m going to share the “red flags” that tell me that a business theory, management concept, or technology category is doomed-to-fail hype. Here they are:

1. Concentrated Biz-Blab

The validity of any business proposition or concept is always inversely proportional to the amount of vaguely-defined corporate-speak used to describe it. Fuzzy terminology always reflects fuzzy thinking. Example: the statement: “collaboration increases the ability for nimble market transformation” actually means nothing but sounds good. Ergo bullsh*t.

2. Sponsored Research

Over the past few years people have gotten more savvy when it comes to spotting “research” that’s obviously self-serving and therefore invalid. Nevertheless, I still get story pitches citing research like “90% of employees want better entry door security,” the topline of a study that (of course) was funded by an entry door security provider. Ergo bullsh*t.

3. No Double-Blind Testing

A huge software company–SF.com for instance–could easily fund a study comparing, say, a sales group given fully-functioning software and a sales group given a hobbled version, with the testing company and vendor unaware of which group had which version. That would tell us if CRM really works as advertised. But not study ever happens. Ergo bullsh*t.

4. Category Refreshes

Products and services that actually work–provide value to their customers–tend to keep the same name over time. Why change it? Products and services where the hype has outrun reality require periodic “umbrella term” refreshes. Hence, “SFA” begat “CRM” begat “Sales 2.0” begat “Sales Enablement.” Ergo bullsh*t.

5. Anecdotal Proof

“Company A bought our product or service and their costs went down and their revenue went up.” Sorry, but correlation isn’t causation and how do we know that there’s not companies B, C, D, and E who bought that product or service and it turned into a pig’s breakfast? Case studies aren’t proof. Ergo bullsh*t.

6. Metaphorical Proof

Example: “Diamonds form under high pressure, therefore a high pressure workplace makes you stronger.” Say whut? Another example: “Our AI learned to play poker, therefore it can make complex business decisions.” Dudes, “business as poker ” is a metaphor. Poker’s rules can be printed on a single page; there are over 1 million books about business. Ergo bullsh*t.

7. Obviously Biased Endorsements

As evidence that a product or service works, the vendor quotes somebody whose career now depends on the purchase proving successful. (E.g. a facilities manager who bought into open plan is quoted on how successful it’s been.) Similarly, quoting employees who know they’d be fired were they to tell the truth. Ergo bullsh*t.

8. “Google Does It” Proof

Aka “Apple Does It”, “Microsoft Does It”, “Amazon Does It”, “Facebook Does It”, etc. Seriously, are we really going to hold these firms up as the pinnacle of business wisdom? From what I can see they’re pretty screwed up in multiple ways. In any case, if every company is doing something (like open plan), how could you possible know whether it’s working or not? Ergo bullsh*t.

9. Quasi-Religious Claims

Any claim that a technology will result in either the apocalypse or human immortality is simply repurposing religious hopes and fears. Example: “AI will take over the world!!!” Yeah, just like Y2K was going to destroy it. Another example: “Humans will transfer their minds into computers and live forever!!!” Religion not science. Ergo bullsh*t.

10. Denialism

Despite overwhelming peer-reviewed evidence that open plan offices are productivity disasters, we still encounter “there are studies on both sides” arguments. There aren’t. Similarly, multiple studies have shown CRM installations have a huge failure rate, but we still hear “CRM is a strategic investment” lingo. Can’t pass a simple reality check? Ergo bullsh*t.