Posts Tagged '110 percenters'

Operationalise with care

An early operation - homeopaths note: medical treatment like this can often seem more credible if you wear a funnel or a book on your head, or ask a nearby spiritual person to look concerned

I’ve just heard a politician state that his country was ready to “operationalise” a strategy, which obviously has consequences. Quite apart from anything else, a civil servant now has to draw up an operationalisation plan.

If civil servants are paid by the syllable, I can see the point in this. Otherwise, I’d like to helpfully point out – in the interests of public sector efficiency – that an operationalisation plan can also be described as “a plan”.

How far can we push this polysyllabilisationism? A bit further, it seems, but we’ll get to that. Operationalise is an excellent example of word obesity. It’s the vocab equivalent of stuffing a sock in your Y-fronts or padding your bra.

You can just keep stretching a word like “operate”. I took this word as a base to see how well we’re doing at stuffing it with extra syllables. Not surprisingly, useful extensions like operation and operational have more or less exactly the same long-term relative frequency, though operational is growing, maybe because it sounds macho:

Not much to see there. But let’s add the politician’s word that started all this: operationalise. To catch all the examples, I spelt it using both the -ise and -ize forms. This extension is getting much more popular. I’m guessing it is crowding out “put into operation”, which doesn’t make you sound important at all.

Just out of interest, I wondered if anyone had the nerve to commit a word like operationalisation to print and, I kid you not, there almost 400 examples of it in 2009 alone:

It’s becoming more popular, but not gaining in popularity as fast as operationalise. I think that’s for two reasons:

1. From the examples I could be bothered to read, there’s just no point to it; which is a disadvantage even for clever-sounding words

2. It’s just as hard to type as it is to say

Two good reasons to stop right here, but you know I can’t do that. On 29 October 2009, in the transcript of a Zygo Corporation earnings conference call, the world was introduced to the first ever recorded example of the word operationalizational in a business context. Nine syllables! I can’t help feeling that future historians will date some kind of decline from this moment, lamenting that a once great culture choked to death by gorging itself on its own syllables.


Keep taking the revolutionary tablets

Talking Carl: hero of the revolution

As we put our feet up and mix the first martini of the weekend, we turn our thoughts to what the next week has in store for us. If you’ve been reading the blogs you’ll know that we are on the verge of a revolution. Thanks to Apple’s tablet computer nothing will ever be the same ever again, except for the 10 million people in the UK who have never used the internet, the one third of Europeans who haven’t either, or the 4 billion people in the world who’ve never even used a phone (let alone used one to download an app to tell them where the nearest sushi bar is). But, in the developed world, we organise our revolutions around the availability of consumer electronics these days.

I thought I’d look into how good Apple and Microsoft have been at getting us to mount the barricades for their respective revolutions.

The first chart shows how well, over the last 10 years, the companies have been doing at converting claims that they are revolutionary into news stories that agree with the premise. I restricted this to technology news in newspapers. The line zigs about a bit, but as you can see Microsoft wasn’t making much headway until last year. Windows 7 seems to have got journalists a bit excited – although the line shoots up mostly because there were far fewer Microsoft press releases claiming a revolution than there were in 2008 (when it did nothing particularly revolutionary at all, but was twice as likely to claim that it did).

The second chart takes claims for revolution in any year and subtracts Microsoft’s coverage from Apple’s. If the dot is in the top half of the graph, Apple is winning. In the bottom half, it’s Microsoft. It shows that while journalists are more comfortable saying that Apple was starting a revolution (purple line: top half for the whole decade), Apple’s PR too (orange line) is becoming increasingly comfortable with this particular example of meaningless hyperbole. At the beginning of the decade Apple almost never claimed to be revolutionary. Now, perhaps encouraged by the willingness of journalists to pass on the message, it is three times as likely as Microsoft to claim its products are revolutionary.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m typing this on my iMac while syncing iTunes with my iPhone. I just paid 59p for an iPhone app that displays the little red fella at the top of the post (he’s called Carl). In its own way this app is revolutionary: when I say things to my phone such as “Only an educated and productive people can be truly free,” or “Not a grain of sand will we yield to imperialism,” Carl says it back to me in a cartoon voice while waving his little fist. You can also tickle him.

I’m sure that in the old days we would wait until we had actually seen the product before we decided that something was going to cause a revolution (The Segway, of course, was an exception). Meanwhile if the breathless anticipation of Apple’s iThing continues in the press, Microsoft’s going to spend another year being less revolutionary than Apple. Maybe that’s what happens when you’ve been the status quo for ever.

How the game-changing game has changed for game-changers

It comes to my notice that Google has launched a phone. But not just any old phone: Google has launched a game-changing phone. I’m not sure that anyone has explained to me the specific game that mobile phone companies are playing (though if my recent experience with Orange Mobile Broadband is any guide, one version of the rules is called Shaft The Customer), but 147 articles in the telecommunications press recently have decribed Google as changing some game or other.

This is, lest we forget, after Apple has already changed the same game. The 249 articles which describe Apple in the same way peaked in 2007, so we must assume in this case that Google is re-re-changing the game that Apple re-changed after Nokia changed it after someone else invented it. Or something like that.

When we look at telecommunications in general, few games have been left unchanged in the last two or three years. Around 2002 or 2003 it was very unusual to find anything in the telecommunications press that claimed to change any game at all. We had 30 times as many game-changers in 2009, compared to what we would have expected had game-changingness remained at 2002 levels:

It isn’t just telecommunications in which companies are claiming to have altered the game as soon as the previous permutation of the earlier mutation of the last modification has taken effect. Here’s the trend in the business press, where we find companies that change games about half as frequently, but with a similar upward trend. In 2009 we got only about 20 times as much game-changingness as we would have expected, taking 2002 as our base:

Part of this is journalistic over-stimulation: the increasing resemblance of business reporting to a Mexican soap opera. So given that some reporters are willing to write up the opening of a jar of pickle as potentially game-changing, marketers are helping by using the term game-changing to play the most important media game of all: the game of Pump Up What Your Employer Does To Make It Sound More Important Than Selling A Product. You might say that their use of game-changing has, in itself, been game-changing. If you wanted me to slap you, that is.

Giving your all (plus 0.8 per cent)

Hero of the USSR Alexey Stakhanov, by my criteria, gave around 3,000 per cent.

As we’re getting close to the time of year when people like to make resolutions to try harder, I thought I’d do a quick bit of research to work out how much harder we ought to try, and who should be trying harder to try harder.

I searched for stories where people claimed to give certain percentages (or % or per cent) of effort to find how hard we have been trying in the last few years. I examined a spread from “give 120 per cent” down to “give 80 per cent” on the assumption that anyone claiming to give higher or lower percentages is either a fantasist or lazy enough to ignore.

Ideally any society will have a cadre of capable people who tell you they are giving 110 and 120 per cent. The most noticeable tend to work in professional sports, though as they also tend to assure us they are taking each game as it comes, we can’t assume this is a long term trend. If it is, I’ll be over the moon.

Imagine if we let the 100 percenters carry on as before, then we pair each person who claims to give 120 per cent with someone who wants to give 80 per cent, each person giving 110 with a 90-percenter, and so on. By finding the average I’m effectively measuring who is left over after we do this.

Note that I assume that someone claiming to give 110 per cent is as likely to fulfil that promise as someone who claims to give 90 per cent. This is obviously problematic from a strictly statistical point of view, because it’s what statisticians call “impossible”. So that’s problematic in the sense of “not true”. But I don’t make up the numbers, I just report them.

We need our hyperbolic elites to balance out those who shamelessly give 90 or 80 per cent and aren’t scared to tell the press about it. In normal times a society can celebrate both over- and underachievers, and so will score a solid 100 per cent. Yet, in times of crisis, perhaps more than 100 per cent effort is required – which is why I looked at the statistics for 2009. We’re averaging 100.8 globally, so that’s all right:

I conclude:

1. We’re doing better than we used to. At least, we’re saying that we’re doing better. The global effort mean for the noughties was about 96 per cent.

2. The BRIC countries say they’re trying harder than we are. Anyone who has ever spent a couple of hours in the presence of an Indian company manager, watched all those drummers at the opening cermony of the Beijing Olympics, or looked to see where all your spam comes from will believe this.

3. The UK and the US are above average. Our economies are dead in the water and we’re basically owned by China, but the index shows that we keep telling people that we’re trying; which is endearing.

4. Journalists claim to work harder than politicians. But I’m sure politicians are also claiming another couple of percent in their expenses – not least because they score less than 100 per cent.

5. Surprisingly, sportspeople are below-average hyperbolists. An odd result considering the number of high-profile bullshitters who work in the business. The low score is maybe because, even if they insist they’re giving 120 per cent, they’re giving it twice a week for an hour and a half (though I’m not sure how this would be reflected in the data). Or it might just be that cricket, a game where it’s not polite to try too hard and which is the only sport deliberately scheduled around sit-down meals, drags the average down.

Good news: if you’re worried that your New Year’s resolution might be too testing, you don’t need to try as hard as you think. If your peer group wants to top the charts next year all you need to do is let the press know that you consistently give 101.7 per cent. You’ll be top of my pile for hyperbolic ambition, if not for quotability.

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