The fascinating banality of business bullshit

There are many reasons not to listen to this nonsense. The glaring philosophical contradictions, the creepily messianic tones of his speech, the self-indulgent and naive politics underlying it. But as an emerging managerial discourse, upon which this man has apparently established a large consultancy and made a lot of money, it absolutely fascinates me. What explains the apparent receptiveness to at least some of these ideas? The speaker is apparently the “hottest advisor on the corporate virtue circuit”. Is anyone else fascinated to discover there is a “corporate virtue circuit”? 

As loathe as I am to say it, he does seem to be offering something marginally more substantive than a greenwashing consultancy. But what is that something? There are two key ideas in this talk:

  • the shift from what to how – replacing a focus on outcomes with a focus on technique, moving from quantity to quality
  • the need to affectively engage workers, ‘inspiring them’ rather than motivating them with carrots or threatening them with sticks

The first seems like an insight which can only be marginally applied. In the speaker’s terms, there’s an inevitable limit to how far it can be scaled i.e. metrics don’t emerge in organisations simply because ‘leaders’ have yet to encounter the speaker’s ‘insights’. The second point is more interesting. There’s a gloriously polemical Zero Book which explores the implications of this line of argument. Money is being ‘wasted’ through the ‘disengagement’ of workers. Therefore we need new technologies of affect to reach into the souls of workers, to inspire them and make them go the extra mile for the company. It’s in this context that we should think about the uptake of self-tracking and gamification within contemporary organisation. I’d like to understand the sociology of this in much greater depth than I do. I’m astonished and fascinated by the bullshit which seems to thrive in the world of ‘leadership’, ‘corporate virtue’ and ‘motivational speaking’. 

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