Google's intriguing additions to Civil Service lingo

Top communication professionals have learnt some magnificent new unspeak, including: 'Don't be a poo in the pool'...
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The Independent Online

I'm a big fan of those quizzes that pop up on social media asking readers whether certain quotes came from X or Y. Who said what, Kahlil Gibran or Hallmark cards? Hip-hop or Shakespeare? The real Civil Service or Yes Minister?

This last is very tricky, as I learned while reading A Very Courageous Decision: The Inside Story of Yes Minister by Graham McCann. I am one of the judges for the Political Humour and Satire Book of the Year category in the Political Book Awards 2015 (presented 28 January), and I've been learning a lot about political language while reading the shortlist. McCann is among the contenders (which include the very clever Listellany by my colleague John Rentoul), as is Would They Lie to You? by Robert Hutton, which purports to be an unearthed copy of a secret document teaching the dark art of "uncommunication". This is the means by which politicians like to answer difficult questions with lot of words while saying nothing.

It's a shame that all these books were written in 2014, before news emerged last week of the latest Civil Service initiative. Members of the Government Communication Service's Inspire Talent Cohort ("a cohort of 37 high-potential senior government communication professionals … designed to accelerate the development of communication leaders of the future" – says a government website, not a spoof) spent a week with Google in an attempt to develop digital skills. What they came back with, according to a blog by one of them, was some magnificent new unspeak. Among the ideas learned was how to "step out of your rivers of thinking" and "greenhouse your ideas when brainstorming". This means using the SUN technique: "Suspend your judgements of colleagues' ideas; Understand their ideas; Nurture their ideas." But what if your colleagues' ideas are rubbish?

By far the most intriguing Californian addition to Civil Service lingo, however, runs thus: "Don't be a 'poo in the pool'. There are people who may prevent you from jumping into the pool of creativity by failing to embrace your ideas with their reductive thinking. Don't be that person." I don't know about you, but if I were about to jump into a pool, clad only in my creativity, I'd rather not be embraced by a poo. Perhaps it makes more sense if you're wearing Google glasses.

What I'd really like to know is what the civil servants taught Google – but if I know Yes Minister, we'll never find out because civil servants are much more subtle than that. Perhaps the high potential communication professionals were really sent on an undercover mission to bamboozle Google into handing over the results of its street-view cameras, "unpromise" the company some government attention and bewilder it into paying more reasonable corporate taxes. Or would that be what Sir Humphrey would call a "very courageous decision"?

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