Tony Benn once made a speech about what was wrong with the National Health Service.

He said:

“The NHS held a boat race against a Japanese crew.

The Japanese won by a mile.

So the NHS set up a working party, which found Japan had eight people rowing and one steering, while the NHS had eight people steering and one rowing.

So the NHS spent £5 million on consultants and formed a restructured crew of four assistant steering managers, three deputy managers and a director of steering services.

The rower was then given an incentive to row harder.

They then held another race and this time the NHS lost by two miles.

So the NHS fired the rower for poor performance, sold the boat and used the proceeds to pay a bonus to the director of steering services.”

Tony Benn made that speech about the way the NHS was run.

But it could refer to lots of industries.

Why would anyone want more people having meetings about work than they have actually doing the work?

We used to call this “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians”.

It’s the same as four men standing round the top of a hole watching one man down the hole digging.

It’s a belief that men with clipboards are more important than men with shovels.

I don’t buy that.

Someone has to do the work for someone to measure it.

But there’s a fascination with people who talk about things instead of doing anything.

People who manage to sound really intelligent by being a critic.

By having an opinion on what everyone else ought to do without actually producing anything themselves.

There’s been a massive growth of this in our business.

Based totally on FOMO.

If someone else has something new, we need one too.

In fact we need more than one.

Even if we don’t know what they do.

In fact precisely because we don’t know what they do.

Otherwise it looks like we’re missing out, we’re old-fashioned

It’s tough to know what to call these people given they don’t actually do anything.

They cost a lot of money and use up a lot of everyone’s time with meetings that don’t produce anything.

So we give them titles that simultaneously describe (and disguise) what they (don’t) do:

Directors of Implementation. Custodians of Change Enhancement. Initiative Co-ordinators. Inspiration Officers. Conversation Architects. Action Ambassadors. Future Evangelists.

And the more obscure the language, the more clients seem impressed.

I recently sat in a meeting with a client and a media company.

The media director recommended ‘hyper-local’ media.

The client said “Ooh ‘hyper-local’, I haven’t heard that before”.

And I’m thinking “Well it’s not difficult is it: ‘hyper’ means very and ‘local’ means ‘local”.

But they didn’t call it that because “very local” isn’t impressive.

So they couldn’t charge a lot for it.

Which, remember, is the main purpose of complicated language.


As Carl Ally said “A marketing consultant is someone who looks at your watch, tells you the time, and sends you a bill”.