A conference I recently attended — I conceal its identity to spare the blushes of the organizers — had apparently forged enough connections to industrially applicable linguistic research to make it succumb to the blandishments of business-school jargon. (If one sups with the devil one should use a long spoon.) Every participant was given one of those fancy plasticized file folders to hold the program and so on, and on this fancy folder was emblazoned the following slogan:
• innovate • connect • achieve
I stared at the unrequested folder for some time, thinking of Orwell, and trying to imagine what ghastly school of business management Newspeak must have spawned the slogan.
Its syntax appears to be that of a succession of three imperative clauses: one pointless, one mysterious, and one scarcely even coherent.
The first instructs the addressee to be novel. But innovation is not that easy. And those who find it difficult are not likely to be helped by being instructed to do it. (Telling them to be innovative is rather like snapping "Relax!" at people who seem tense — not a good idea at all.)
The second imperative I take to have been drawn from E. M. Forster's maxim "Only connect", from chapter 22 of Howard's End, part of a speech that I feel I never really understood in the first place. And what of being told this at a conference? Were we being told to connect with each other, in the bar, perhaps? To connect things with other things at random? Perhaps we were supposed to connect up our innovations. I do not know.
And the third clause of the slogan seems frankly ungrammatical: to the extent that there are any verbs at all that uncompromisingly demand a direct object, they would be verbs like achieve, accomplish, abandon, accompany, keep, retain and so on, so inherently relational that the meaning can hardly be specified at all in the absence of a second argument for the predicate. As with innovating, those incapable of achievement will hardly be helped by being told to achieve. But at least innovate means something on its own ("make up new stuff"). What does Achieve! mean? Achieve what?
The slogan served only to make me feel somewhat distracted, bullied, and alienated. I resolved to disobey. I refused to innovate throughout the weekend; I did only things I had done before, like slipping out of sessions early to down a manhattan. I connected as little as possible. And I did not attempt to achieve. Management slogans affect me that way. I revolt. I choose not to be managed. If Language Log Plaza had a sign over the door that read "BLOG!", it would be done for as far as I'm concerned. Blogging, like speaking at a Quaker meeting, is something one must do only if the spirit moves one. Like innovation, and achievement. And commenting. Don't feel obliged. Really.