That Ain't No Bull

by francine Hardaway on June 5, 2003

The vocabulary of consulting has been the basis for entire books of Dilbert cartoons. Words and phrases that have entered the language via management, strategy, or IT consulting firms include such all time favorites as �leverage,� �human capital,� �customer relations management,� �take it offline,� �thoughtware,� �wordsmith�(as a verb), and �strawman.�

The marketing department of one of the big four consulting firms had been selling authenticity and straight talk for some time when one of the firm�s own consultants challenged marketing to get serious about it, and �create an application to filter out bull.�

The marketing department responded, assembling five of the firm�s best and brightest to create such a tool. Chelsea Hardaway�yes, a familiar name to those who follow the foibles of my family — headed up the underground effort, and describes the 10-month project as being �conceived and created by our people, for our people. If you look up bull in the dictionary, you�ll find a picture of a consultant. So who better to lead the charge against it?� The result? Bullfighter, a helpful utility that runs in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, checks for jargon, offers alternative language, and gives every document a score. You should try running your own documents through it; you�d be surprised how much consultantspeak has filtered into your vocabulary.

To populate Bullfighter�s dictionary, Deloitte launched the �Serious Bull Contest� inside the firm. Within three weeks, nearly 10,000 submissions and 5,000 unique bull words were suggested. One consultant alone sent in 832 words. �Leverage� was voted the most hated word, followed by �bandwidth� and �touch base.�

The contest�s winner won a trip to the California Academy of Tauromaquia in San Diego and Mexico for a course in non-lethal bullfighting. A very funny short film of his trip can be found at

As for the software itself, once installed, the Bullfighter toolbar appears in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents, and works much like the spell check feature. The software scans documents for egregious bull, flogs the author for trying to use those words, suggests replacements, and then assigns a Bull Composite score.

There is also a screensaver that cracks me up: it�s a plain black screen with white words dropping from top to bottom. The words land in a pile at the bottom of the screen. Soon, a fly buzzes above the pile. Then a bovine tail swishes in from left to right. Last, a broom comes by and sweeps away the pile of words. It�s hysterical.

Deloitte used the Bullfighter software tool to examine a wide range of communications from companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and found � not surprisingly — that straight-talking companies outperform companies that use vague, unclear communications. (Thank goodness this was true. Imagine if it were not?)

Some of the other Bull findings:

� Among the 50 DJIA companies analyzed, Home Depot earned the top spot for clarity in communications.
� The computer hardware and software segments suffered the lowest readability scores and used the most jargon overall. Apple Computers, Inc. is a notable exception, proving that even technical companies can speak clearly.
� Consulting firms were slightly ahead of the technology segments � but earned no bragging rights when it came to clear communication.
� Consumer goods companies, even those selling complex products, were very clear communicators.
� The emergence of �bull� in corporate documents may provide an early warning sign of troubles. A review of Enron�s communications during the last three years indicates that, when performance began to sink, its communications became increasingly laden with ambiguous words and sentences.

Deloitte�s conclusion � that straightforward communications can be linked to financial performance � mirrors the findings of two accounting and finance professors, Malcolm Smith of the University of South Australia and Richard Taffler of England�s Cranfield University. Their independent study concluded that clarity of communications can be a very good indicator of corporate performance.

Now Deloitte consultants who fancy endless sentences sprinkled with multi-syllabic words, or who populate their documents with heaps of jargon, can count on a good humored lashing from Bullfighter. And in conversations, the consultants hold each other to the “no bull” standard with a friendly flogging any time a Bull word is used.

You are getting this message shortly before the Bullfighter story will be released to the world as the central piece of an effort to create a challenger brand for Deloitte Consulting. If you want to try it on your own documents, Bullfighter is available as a public service from Like mother, like daughter.

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