buzz word watch: thank you Leora

Img_0704I am distinctly the worse for ethnographic wear.  Leora Kornfeld to the rescue.  She send me an email today.  I think it captures an interesting and important abuse now evident in marketing circles.  I present it without editing and with abject thanks.

what is up w/ everyone calling themselves a ‘strategist’ these days?

Marketing strategist, communications strategist, internet strategist, etc

Does this somehow distinguish them from colleagues in the same field who pursue things non-strategically?

I was in a mtg w/ some web development guys a # of months back…and at the initial meeting they pitched their expertise as follows:

“we like to think we’re high level thinkers”.

To which I responded with a wry smile “so you like to think…hmmm”… the message being that just because you like to think of yourself as possessing these qualities does not necessarily endow you with these qualities.

And at the same time I don’t want to put forward a plenitude-quashing point of view, it’s just that things are swinging to a ridiculous end of the spectrum and people make wild claims about almost everything. One of these days I may actually be in a meeting with people whose web site doesn’t promote their work as “award-winning”.

Hopefully this isn’t too cynical, but…


Thank you, Leora.

Post script:

The photo was taken this morning in the countryside outside Brussels.  Sunday, I am off to Paris for the week.   I have a couple of posts brewing on ethnographic practice.  I mean, I just feel it should be more strategic, right?

8 thoughts on “buzz word watch: thank you Leora

  1. steve

    Just for laughs, when someone claims to be a strategist, you could ask them which tradition of strategy they represent. Economic? Then ask them to define a Nash equilibrium and see how they feel about Cournot vs. Bertrand models. Military? Then ask them about Clausewitz or John Boyd or Edward Luttwak. You can do the same thing with sports, chess, marketing, or any other domain they claim that has a tradition of strategic analysis.

  2. LK

    Steve, bravo! Are you available on call for they type of cameo intervention Marshall McLuhan made in Annie Hall? It would be priceless to have a bona fide scholar of strategy present at encounters with the surfeit of self-proclaimed strategists that walk among us.

  3. steve

    As a rule, I am opposed to credentialism, especially in ill-defined areas such as strategy. In fact, there really is no body of knowledge whose possesiion truly entitles one to claim “I am a strategist” or whose lack bars that claim. But it sounds like people are pretending that such a credential exists and then further pretending that they possess it. For a modest fee I’d happily prick that double-bubble.

  4. LK

    The anti-credentialism credo isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is how do we think about/describe/communicate approaches and sets of skills at a time when so many are laying claim to titles that have specific meanings. Will the outcome be ultimately that outside of doctors and lawyers we won’t really be sure who is qualified to do what? (and in Canada at least chiropractors call themselves doctors, as do naturopaths; and worldwide we have phD doctors. As Stephen Colbert mentioned on his show the other night he believes that his honorary doctorate from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois ( should give him the right to perform minor surgeries in the tri-state area.

    The double bind of credentialism is that generally those who don’t have them like to claim them, and those who do have them don’t need to; their knowledge is either self-evident or not.

    I look forward to a future post from Grant on how to deal with this issue of our changeable, multitudinous selves while representing ourselves accurately and maintaining integrity.

  5. tim

    mmm. there’s nothing high level thinkers hate more than othe high level thinkers. eh?

  6. Peter

    There are those who do, and those who think.

    My difficult moments as a management consultant have usually been with those who think they do, and those who think they think. Neither group rarely do.

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