Movers and shakers in a bingo win-win situation

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MEETINGS - don't you just hate them? Well, a new pursuit rapidly gaining favour among the downtrodden executives of Britain's leading companies is brightening up even the most boring presentation.

Bullshit Bingo, currently circulating as a samizdat e-mail around the business capitals of Europe, lists 40 key pieces of management jargon that crop up in business meetings.

Favourite phrases include "win-win situation", "client focused", "move the goalposts", "employee empowerment", "pushing the envelope", "movers and shakers" and "strategic fit". All you have to do is tick off five phrases in the meeting and then shout "bingo" to win.

The long-suffering masses at some of the UK's most prominent businesses have already caught the bug.

A recent meeting at NatWest - which is currently at the wrong end of a hostile pounds 21bn bid from Bank of Scotland - was punctuated by a cry of "bingo" as a senior director uttered the dread word "benchmarking".

A BBC strategy conference was treated to spontaneous applause during a speech by Alan Yentob. Staff had laid bets on which well-worn phrases would be used by the broadcasting boss - "emblematic" being a popular favourite - and cheered when one of their number scooped the kitty.

Our copy of Bullshit Bingo was supplied by a female executive from a world-class British exporter. "So many people use business-school cliches," she says. "One of our finance guys is particularly bad. I was recently in a meeting where half the executives were waiting to see if he could beat his own record. He took just three sentences."

We might spare some sympathy for executives forced to spend so much time engaged in an activity many of them consider valueless. A recent German management study, for example, found that 80 per cent of leading executives considered that meetings wasted time, were unprofessionally run and chaotically structured.

But the forces of conformity - and the influence of business schools and management gurus - are clearly too powerful to resist.

The jargon pilloried by Bullshit Bingo clearly reflects the desire to conform. The fact that "thinking outside the box" has become a cliche suggests that "thinking inside the box", wherever that might be, is the "mindset" many prefer.