Ode to TPS reports and steak holders

The past two weeks, I’ve talked about God as a faithful listener and source of comfort, as well as shared a bit about verbal processing. Today’s post continues with the theme of words, but it’s the first post in a category called ‘the lighter side.’ It’s an attempt at humor. Please do let me know if it was successful or not. Enjoy!

After work one day recently, I was thinking about the idea of ‘shop talk.’ It’s the words we find ourselves using that mean something only to those we work with, or others in our field or profession.

Shop talk shows up in all industries and can be helpful when it has a clear meaning and builds camaraderie for those who use it. A good amount of my work experience has been in Corporate America, which has a jargon all its own.

The terms can hover like a thick fog disguising meaning with big, nebulous words. You find yourself rubbing your eyes and thinking awfully hard to understand what’s being said. I’ve fallen into using corporate jargon many times. It takes a lot to resist when it’s all around you.

Before you know it, you hear yourself say things like, “The team is committed to strategically fostering continued development, enhanced engagement and upward mobility.” Translation: “The team will make sure everyone has well-planned opportunities to continue learning new skills, gain rewarding work experience, and be considered for promotions.”

Jargon is real, and sometimes, it’s real funny.

One of my favorite ways to break up a dense conversation full of jargon is to mention TPS Reports. These reports are not real, but they played an unforgettable supporting role in the 1999 movie Office Space, a popular spoof on corporate life. If you’re looking for a solid punchline in most any office environment, TPS reports are a sure bet. Everyone chuckles and gives a knowing nod that we’ve fallen too far down the jargon rabbit hole.

A friend of mine has a unique way of injecting relief and amusement into the day at her workplace. She and some of her coworkers discreetly play Buzzword Bingo during meetings with a certain team known for their mastery of corporatese. They eagerly listen for words like leading-edge, capital efficiency, leverage and optimize. Such a fantastic idea!

Letting out a good laugh is the best feeling during long days filled with meetings, charts and jargon. In the spirit of joking with jargon, here’s a made-up exchange between a waiter and me, if I were limited to corporate jargon. Bon Appetit!

Made-up exchange between me and a waiter

Setting: A mid-priced steakhouse. I’m seated at a table toward the window. The waiter approaches with a smile on his face and welcomes me to the restaurant.

Me: Hello. What’s your body of work?

The waiter doesn’t understand my question. I point to the menu. He nods, hands me the red, bound pages with gold lettering and begins to tell me the lunch specials. He’s going into great detail about unrelated items, and it’s taking too long. I glance at my watch and prompt him to provide an executive summary.

Me: Can you provide an executive summary? I need you to boil it down for me.

The waiter proceeds to tell me the lobster can be boiled, but the steak and chicken options are only available seared and grilled, respectively. I decide to move the conversation along and inquire what his recommendation is for the best meal selection.

Me: What dish will have the most scalable impact on my hunger? What really moves the needle?

Photo by Daniel Norris on Unsplash

Photo by Daniel Norris on Unsplash

The waiter shrugs and replies that the lobsters vary in weight from 2 to 4 pounds. They don’t use needles to administer anesthesia to the lobsters when they’re boiled. The temperature increases slowly, and they don’t feel any pain. While this was interesting information, I wasn’t any closer to learning the restaurant’s core competency. I try again.

Me: What dish is a real game-changer? What shifts paradigms for palates?

The waiter conveys that the lobsters don’t seem to like playing games even though he’s tried to engage them, prior to their demise, in Candy Crush, Fortnite and cricket. He continues on to say that he doesn’t recommend paragliding at all, much less shifting around in the paragliding harness after eating lobster. I decide to modify my approach and try again.  

Me: Listen, if we leverage best practices strategically, I’m confident we can reach an understanding. Synergy is essential, and I’m your primary stakeholder. Now, what is your recommended solution?

The waiter pauses. He practices reciting the body of work frequently, he says, and apparently is quite good as he wins memorization contests with the other wait staff. He thought I wanted boiled lobster, but he’s happy to bring me a steak to hold while I’m enjoying my lobster. Although, he supposes I’ll need both hands free to eat said lobster. I decide to make one final attempt by acknowledging my role and asking him to answer the original inquiry.   

Me: I see. Well, I’m trying to stay in my swim lane as the customer, but you still haven’t answered my request for your input. Could you please do so?

The waiter apologizes. He says they don’t have a pool, but the community center is right around the corner. It isn’t possible for him to serve lobster there due to food safety health laws. He asks if I can wait until after dinner to swim laps in my lane and recommends waiting one to two hours for proper digestion. I decide to mitigate further delays and suspend my efforts to uncover the restaurant’s core competency. Schedule is now the main driver in this exercise.

Me: Yes, I can wait to swim my laps, and I’ll have the lobster. Boiled down. Please do not bring me a steak to hold. Thank you.

The waiter retrieves the body of work from my hands and hurries off to the kitchen. I make a note to file a TPS report with the waiter’s manager. Clearly, they need to hire an outside consultant to evaluate their value creation strategy. Their competitive advantage was in dire straights.


What about you? What type of jargon do you catch yourself using at work? Any amusing terms to share that would confuse the rest of us?

Up next: Coming up in a couple of weeks, I think we might touch on the topic of love. We’ll see how the post ends up. Until then, take care, of yourself, and to avoid TPS reports.

Catch up: If this is your first time to my blog, you may want to checkout the first post to learn more about me and why I blog. So glad you’re here!