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
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,
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
"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!
Progress Humor: Buzzword Bingo
Reprint from The Miami Herald
Thursday, July 30, 1998