Synergy, paradigm, bingo!
 
July 19, 1998
By Michael Precker
The Dallas Morning News
 

       
                             

                             Office game makes corporate blather entertaining

Hey, boss! Are your employees suddenly paying closer attention? Perhaps even hanging on every word?

You may be the vector of a new paradigm, as proactive team players synergize an out-of-the-box strategy of functionality and infotainment, re-engineering the learning curve framework of your
dotted-line relationship.

Or, in plain English, your  management-speak may be fodder for a trendy office game called Buzzword Bingo.

"The key to its popularity is that anybody who's listening is now realizing that these people are talking and not making any sense," says Benjamin Yoskovitz, co-founder of Meep! Media, an Internet company in Montreal.

"People who use these buzzwords are just  trying to sound intelligent, to give
themselves an air of top-management power.  If people have to listen, at least we can
give them a laugh."

Mr. Yoskovitz is co-writing a Buzzword Bingo Bible, complete with rules, variations, anecdotes and lists of words. It's due out this fall, but there's no need to wait.

 Just compile your favorite corporate culture cliches, either in a simple list or in bingo-card form. There are a few Internet sites that offer ready-made  lexicons or let you print out Buzzword Bingo cards for free.

"This works for any field - business, education, sports, medicine, anything,"  says Mr. Yoskovitz, who developed a computer program to generate random bingo cards and happily gives it away. "I talked  to somebody at NASA who wants to customize it for themselves."

Buzzword Bingo players take the lists or cards - discreetly - into a meeting or other assembly, then check off the buzzwords as the speaker utters them.

"I've been in meetings that you know going  in are going to be particularly painful, and you'd probably rather be anywhere else," says Henry Hartevelt, a former Dallasite who works in San Francisco as an  independent marketing consultant for  high-tech companies. "Buzzword Bingo is the next best thing to caffeine. Sometimes  it's even better, because you don't get  the jitters."

An engineer named Dave at a defense company in Fort Worth says bingo players there haven't had the nerve to take their cards into the conference room.
 
"We mostly keep track of it at our desks,"  says Dave, who - visualizing that blamestorming might get his mission outsourced and himself right-sized - doesn't want his last name used.

"We just play from what you hear over the    wall of your cubicle," he says. "We're management-heavy and they're just spouting  it off nonstop. It's almost too easy to  play some days."
 
But yell "BINGO!" at your own risk.
 
Speaking in low tones over the phone, Dave says he doubts his bosses would appreciate  knowing that their thought leadership and  pet phrases such as "let's see if we're singing from the same hymnbook" are part of a game.
 
"I don't think they could figure it out,"   he says. "Still, we just call each other up and say we won."

In meetings, Mr. Yoskovitz recommends a  cough or other subtle signal to your colleagues. One Internet site suggests proclaiming victory while still sucking up to management by exclaiming, "Bingo, boss!  You got that right!"

Despite researching his book, Mr.Yoskovitz says he's not sure where all  this started. Some accounts credit a Silicon Valley scientist named Tom Davis, who wrote a card-generating program back  in 1993. Word eventually reached  cartoonist Scott Adams, who found the subversive wit ideal for a series in his Dilbert comic strip.
 
In 1996, pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) passed out  Buzzword Bingo cards for the commencement address by Vice President Al Gore, who loves to talk about the future, the information superhighway, emerging  technologies and all the rest.

 "You are surely familiar with the tendency of nontechnical people to use buzzwords when discussing technical issues," the   instruction sheet condescendingly declared. "This hack is designed to gently remind him that he is at MIT, where we can see right through his strategy."

Mr. Gore didn't seem to mind. Students with "paradigm" on their cards cheered when the magic word came up in the speech. Apparently tipped off to the joke, the vice president said, "Did I hit a  buzzword?"

Mr. Hartevelt was initiated about a year ago.

"I was going into a meeting," he says. "One of my clients said, 'Have you heard  about Buzzword Bingo?' He handed me a  sheet of words they thought were trite and overused and meaningless. It was great. We had some very dull presentation that went on and on and it kept everybody in the  room focused."
 
Now an experienced player, Mr. Hartevelt  says the contest is most fun when the bingo caller has no idea what's going on.

 "You can sort of see the dynamics of the room change, especially if people are  facing one another," he says. "You can see eyes darting around or people trying to work their words into the discussion. It really fosters a sense of camaraderie."

In Fort Worth, Dave and his  co-conspirators have been at it for about a month. They download bingo cards from  the Internet, but he has one complaint.
 
 "We still have to modify them a little bit  because we're not that in tune around  here," he says. "We're just so far behind  the power curve on our buzzwords."

As a consultant, Mr. Hartevelt also works the other side of the bingo equation. His advice to buzz-wordy bosses?
 
"I'd probably want to co-opt it," he says.  "You need to make sure people are not just  listening for the words but absorbing the content.

"So I'd say, 'We're here and we have an  important mission. But to add an element of fun, let's play Buzzword Bingo. And maybe there'll be a nice prize at the end.' "
 
Get in the game

Want your own Buzzword Bingo cards or word lists? Type "buzzword bingo" in your  Internet search engine for a list of  helpful sites.
 
 

                               © 1998 The Dallas Morning News
 

How to Play
 
Just download your Buzzword Bingo cards from one of the many Web sites that make them available for free (or print and cut out the ones on this page), or make up your own.  Take the cards  -- discreetly -- into a meeting or other assembly and check off the buzzwords as the speakers utters them.  But yell "BINGO!"  at your own risk.

  
 

 

 
 

Here's a section of  Web sites where you can find Buzzword Bingo cards and information.

 The Official Buzzword Bingo Web Site
 Business Buzzword Bingo!
 Buzzword Bingo
 Progress Humor: Buzzword Bingo
 Buzzword Bingo!!!

Reprint from The Miami Herald
Thursday, July 30, 1998
Section F1

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