Digital Prophet or Chief Cheerleader? How Corporate Bull$hit Dictates Our Designations

Social Commentary

Digital Prophet or Chief Cheerleader? How Corporate Bull$hit Dictates Our Designations

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The 21st century has given us the iconic four-word question – “What do you do?” – the answer to which will decide the respect, time, and attention you shall receive in this world.  Single words born out of passion are your best bet: astronaut, writer, lawyer, painter, doctor. (Of course, jobs born out of lack of opportunities are also defined by a single word: plumber, electrician, maid, barber.) Jobs born out of compulsion are often described in two words: mechanical engineer, chartered accountant, company secretary, pradhan sevak.

But as we slipped into the new decade, a new breed of more ambiguous job titles was invented: Social Media Tools Analyser. Chief Disruptor. Customer Delighter. Change Catalyst. (Of what, may I ask?) Who are these people and what do they really do?  

Designations are having a moment in the sun right now. A watchman is now a Security Executive, a cleaner is now Chief Hygiene Officer. An HR executive has gone on to become a Chief Talent Acquisition Officer, and receptionists now go by Director of First Impressions. (Useful Tip: If the word “chief” or “executive” is the prefix of a title, it’s not a real job.) A service technician at Apple is called “genius”, kid you not. I have met a Vice President of Miscellaneous Stuff – he was in charge of everything nobody else was in charge of. A Chief Cheerleader ensures the morale of employees gets a regular boost, while Head of Futuring is someone in charge of the future, I guess. A Digital Prophet makes online predictions about times to come. And then there’s an Ambassador of Buzz, formerly a “mere corporate-communications assistant”, as pointed out. I think that’s just about how far it can go. Or maybe not. We may have just begun.

I believe these jobs exist because courses that do not require you to have any real talent exist. Back in the day, if you wanted a job in the media or advertising, you needed real skill. You went to JJ School of Arts, National Institute of Design, or Srishti if you wanted to pursue a career as an artist, illustrator, designer. If you were a writer, you had an MA or BA in literature, you’d read great books, and could write for real. Not just type the first 1,000 words that come to your mind and paste it on your blog. You dreamt of writing like Hemingway, not Chetan Bhagat. If you were servicing clients, you had an MBA.

Real qualifications were needed for real jobs. Today, with hundreds of flaky postgraduate and distance-learning courses available, there are tonnes of “professionals” out there. They are smart, informed, know a thing or two, but lack real, tangible talent. And it’s not their fault, it’s the quality of education available to them. But since they’re graduating, the industry must absorb them. It’s as if the industry knew and it created space for this average pool of individuals.

Political correctness has gone so far that calling a watchman, a watchman or a barber, a barber is considered an insult.

Posting on social media daily, making reports measuring performance of brands on social media, buying likes… these are not real jobs. These are imagined roles created to give a sense of self-worth to individuals who otherwise are jacks of all trades, masters of none. A few decades ago, the answer to this was marriage. People didn’t really need jobs, they got married, had children and raised them, and that was more than enough work for one person to handle in a lifetime. But since marrying late is a thing now, and finding the right mate is next to impossible, you must kill time with some sort of employment.

An ideal job today is one that gives you internet access, air-conditioning through the day, colleagues to hang around with, access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tinder, Wi-Fi, and little responsibility. To make your job sound important is a job in itself. It’s like life. Why does life have to be actually good when we can make it seem awesome?

Why are we creating these jobs and coming up with these titles with imagined roles? Because the corporate world is premised on bullshit. In a thoughtful essay in the Guardian on corporate rubbish, André Spicer writes, “A century of management fads has created workplaces that are full of empty words and equally empty rituals… Consider a meeting I recently attended. During the course of an hour, I recorded 64 different nuggets of corporate claptrap. They included familiar favourites such as ‘doing a deep dive’, ‘reaching out’, and ‘thought leadership’. There were also some new ones I hadn’t heard before: people with ‘protected characteristics’ (anyone who wasn’t a white straight guy), ‘the aha effect’ (realising something), ‘getting our friends in the tent’ (getting support from others).”

Our fancy designations are just an extension of this phenomenon.

Most of us are insecure and it’s completely impossible to admit you do nothing or what you do makes no difference. You’re nobody if you aren’t dead on your feet working 14 hours a day. Political correctness has gone so far that calling a watchman, a watchman or a barber, a barber is considered an insult. We might as well start calling a terrorist a Chief Death Executive soon.

Or maybe I am just old. When I was a teenager and job titles such as VJ, RJ, DJ, copywriter came around, my dad scoffed, and said those weren’t “real jobs”, that they meant nothing. We all know what happened next. Perhaps, jobs as we know them will change. Perhaps titles will evolve and these people will actually do something. What’s in a designation, after all.