Earlier this spring I chanced on my old friend, C. Lee Shay, hiding warily behind a
telephone pole. As I had not seen him in some time, I asked where he’d been.
Shay: Unfortunately I was doing time, sent up the river to the Big House, to the
slammer, by the Language Police for impersonating an officer. They assumed that I was a
CEO, CFO or CRO by my language. A clear case of mistaken identity!
Editor: How can that be?
Shay: Well, I was embroiled in an enterprise risk management project. I found a
champion who was ready to enact a robust program, embedding a value-added concept
that would empower the troops from the get-go. We designed the matrices, stimulated
networking, touched base with senior management and started bottom-up and top-down
Editor: Did you use consultants?
Shay: Certainly. They swarmed like ants over our organization and created a ten-pound
report recommending a set of deliverables that would resonate with all our stakeholders.
Editor: What happened then?
Shay: My go-to guy did it! It was do-able and he got buy-in! He rolled out the value
proposition and ramped up our core competencies. He was da man!
Editor: How did he do it?
Shay: He created a set of proactive enablers and sent them cascading through the
Editor: And all this was a win-win situation?
Shay: Absolutely! As we drilled down into the organization, we achieved alignment, and
created competitive advantage.
Editor: Didn’t any of this put them to sleep?
Shay: Not at all! We prioritized our steps, utilized our skills, incentivized the troops and
maximized our margins. All our Zs were stacked in the same direction!
Editor: But why are you still hiding?
Shay: Those language cops are still after me!
Editor: What do they want?
Shay: Closure, you fool, closure!
With acknowledgement and apologies to Roger Angell, of The New Yorker,
whose Chip Arbuthnot is the model for this dialogue.
The good days are gone. What fools we were. We were in cliché
heaven, and then, almost
overnight—just think about it. “Slippery slope”
has bottomed out. “Arguably” is worth
pennies today. “With all the bells and whistles” is
a dead guppy. “No-brainer,” “my
plate is full,” “written in stone,” “it
isn’t rocket science”—these were blue chips
year. All gone-zo. My portfolio is tapped.
Roger Angell, “The Cliché Expert in Recovery,”
The New Yorker, February 17 & 24, 2003