As MG Rover gradually coasted to a stop in 2003, Kevin Howe, the group chief executive of Phoenix Venture Holdings told the press that “Going forward we will remain focused on continuing to reverse the loss situation.” Howe had a grasp of gobbledygook that one doesn’t often see, even in a group chief executive – although, bearing in mind that he was speaking to an audience of motoring journalists, he really missed the opportunity to tell us all that he was looking for a gear change, that he was parking the problem, or that previous management had been asleep at the wheel. But overused car metaphors are a different blog: today I’m thinking about his decision to “go forward”, rather than in any other direction.
I searched Factiva for the phrase “going forward we…”. I added the “we” so that the results would omit the literal use of going forward – for example the results would leave out descriptions of footballers going forward on the pitch, but capture the waffle of the club’s directors going forward at the AGM.
It’s a regular and sustained increase, even when you break apart the five-year blocks I have used. Between 1980 and 1985 I could find only six uses of the phrase. Happy days.
“Going forward” is hogging the middle lane of what-to-do-next jargon. To show this, I grouped “going forward we” to its close relative “moving forward we”, as weasel phrases, and compared them to the two non-MBA phrases “in future we” and “from now on we”. We get a Phillips Weasel Index for the trend towards going forwardness. As the line rises, people are substituting “going/moving forward” for “in the future”/”from now on”:
Between 2002 and 2009 we became about 50 per cent more likely to do something going forward than to do it either “in the future” or “from now on”.
If we really want to be nitpickers – indulge me – then I can try to use my physics A Level. Here goes: when we treat time as a fourth dimension it has a property that breadth, depth and height don’t have. To use another motoring metaphor, time is a one-way street. In three dimensions you can go back and forth, up and down, left and right. In time you’re always heading from the past to the future. You are always going forward because, without Michael J. Fox’s DeLorean car (more motoring), you can’t go back.
So it’s a waste of breath when someone tells you that he or she is going to do something “going forward”. It is redundant, unnecessary, without a function, superfluous, not needed, no longer useful.
You could argue, using this logic, that “in the future” or “from now on” is equally redundant. A good point. On the other hand, only “going forward” is really, really irritating.