Get a Real Title

People who know me know that it is only on the very rare occasion that I may get just the teensiest bit sarcastic when people, places, things, etc, strike me as being silly. I enjoy humor. I seem to find it everywhere, even when I am not especially looking for it. I guess a more correct phrasing would be that the humor and silliness of the business world just seems to find me. Occasionally my approach and public comments regarding what I find funny aggravate my wife, and now she reminds all of our friends not to encourage me when the silliness finds me and my sarcastic twin emerges and starts commenting. Fortunately she is not around right now, and yet another source of silliness in the business world has found me, so please bear this in mind.

I guess I am lost as to what has occurred within the business world that has enabled people to bestow upon themselves, or upon others the latest collection of self aggrandizing job titles that appear to be proliferating on both resumes and the online networking sites that everyone in business now seems to be members of. If I didn’t know better I would say that it looks as though there is a tacit competition amongst the various business players to see who can come up with the most grandiose job title for themselves. If that is indeed the case we seem to have quite a lot of “winners” out there.

I have to believe that the current “Title Wave” started with the many comedians of the past and their stand-up comedy routine monologue searches for laughter. I think the great George Carlin was one of the first to refer to garbage men as “sanitation engineers” as a way of uplifting their roles in society, and Rosanne Barr refused to refer to herself as a house wife and opted for the more resume friendly “domestic goddess”. Who would have thought that from these humble and humorous beginnings business people would now generate an entire new lexicon of job titles, with the only difference being that today’s purveyors of new age job titles are not trying to elicit even the smallest chuckle from the audiences reading their resumes.

In looking at some of the various job and occupational titles that are now being crafted with such care, they appear at least to me, to fall into three general categories:
• Chiefs
• Eastern Philosophers
• People born in or lost in the 1980’s
I am sure that there must be others, and possibly even potential sub categories of the ones I have named, but for me they seem to all fit into these three. It is interesting how that works out. With everyone striving to differentiate themselves from everyone else, they have succeeded in all looking relatively if not inanely the same. I suppose it is the same phenomenon that causes all teenagers to grow their hair long so that they can look and be different. If they all have long hair, how can you tell which one is different? But I digress.

In this case “Chiefs” are not the professional football team from Kansas City. There used to be a politically incorrect saying that when a business was deemed to be too management heavy it was said to have “too many chiefs and not enough Indians”. This however no longer seems to be the case based on the ongoing proliferation of “chief” titles. In the past there were essentially two “Chief” titles: the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the Chief Operations Officer (COO) as the primary chief titles in an organization. Now we must include a few of the more recent ones that I have witnessed:
• Chief Visionary Officer – okay, you got me here. Some people are visionary and some are not. How do you get to be the Chief visionary? Business keratotomy?
• Chief Creative Officer – Same as above. Some are creative and some aren’t. I guess the person that came up with this one first gets to claim the prize.
• Chief Thought Provoker – While I am always in favor of more thinking in business, I don’t think I would hire this person to make sure we do it.
• Chief Inspiration Officer – Now I’m really starting to get lost, or inspired. I’m not really sure which.
• Chief Elation Officer – I think we have officially made it into the silly realm.
• Chief Instigation Officer – I would like to see this job description. How would you do succession planning for this one?
• Chief People Herder – Despite the title, I can see a need for this function. I think most of us refer to this role as a “Project Manager”.

I could not make these up. While I like to think of myself as being somewhat visionary and creative, I know I am not that visionary or creative.

The next general set of new age titles that are appearing seem to be associated in one way or another with Eastern philosophies. I am not sure why. Perhaps the owners of the following titles watched the movie “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” one time too many (which in itself would be an oxymoron as watching it one time could be construed as one time too many) in their more formative years. A few of these new titles are:
• Marketing (or insert any other business discipline here) Ninja – I can stretch to see the skill level association, but the rest of the silent killer / warrior connotation is lost on me.
• Marketing (or insert any other business discipline here) Guru – Same as above I guess, but probably not as warrior like. Marketing seems to attract these types of titles. The last group that I am aware of that had a “Guru” was the Beatles in the 1960’s.
• Marketing (or insert any other business discipline here) Sensei – Staying with our bad movie theme, this how the bad guys in the original Karate Kid movie referred to their teacher. True martial artists refer to their instructor as “Mister – insert last name” (as in Mr. Miyagi in the afore mentioned Karate Kid) as a sign of respect.

Eastern philosophy has always had a role in business. I have extolled the virtues of Sun Tzu, and the twenty fifth century B.C. Chinese general’s “Art of War” several times in the past from a strategy point of view. Despite my appreciation of the book, I don’t think I would try to title myself as a “Business General”. On the other hand, maybe I should.

The final group of new position titles seems to me to be best associated with the 1980’s. Just like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “The Karate Kid” may have engendered the Eastern philosophy bent of new business titles, it seems that other 1980s movies and cultural phenomenon may be responsible for other titles. Here are a few of the more entertaining examples:
• (Insert a business discipline here) Evangelist – Weren’t Jim and Tammy Faye Baker television Evangelists? Just asking.
• (Insert a business discipline here) Magician / Wizard – I get the feeling some people played Dungeons and Dragons (a lot) in their formative years.
• (Insert a business discipline here) Jedi – Yet another movie (Star Wars) reference. Just because you call yourself one, does not mean the Force will be with you.
• (Insert a business discipline here) Warrior / Overlord / Badass / Demigod – These were lame descriptors back in the 1980s. They don’t work now in business either.

I understand the desire for people to set themselves apart from others when it comes to who they are or what they do, but have we allowed ourselves to propeller off into a relatively strange place for business when we use and proliferate such titles. These are actual titles – if you don’t believe me, go out on Linkedin, the business networking site, and do a search on any one of them. I suspect you will get several hits on each one.

I know it sounds boring, but I think most businesses are interested in what talents people have, what they can do and what value they can bring to the organization. If the targeted organization is responsible for creating new job titles, then we probably have some over achievers identified here. If the organization is interested in getti
ng on, and ahead with the business disciplines and functions that drive a business, then they will probably be looking for those that can find a better way to demonstrate their business prowess and skills.

On the other hand, maybe I should just start auditioning for the newly created position of Chief Sarcasm and Silliness Ninja Evangelist.

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