# 97: Mega Bullshit and Our Value Crisis

Story behind the Passage

It was maybe five years ago when I visited a conference on “Rethinking Management.” A keynote speaker from the UK gave a lecture on the topic of “Bullshit.” This is also when I learned about the original work by Harry Frankfurt On Bullshit. I immediately bought it, read it, and enjoyed it very much. This is not because the book is so funny. On the contrary, bullshit is a very serious issue and the fact that it is all over the place aggravates the matter. Remember, I am writing these lines hardly 24 hours after the Capitol in Washington was stormed by a mob that was basically headed by a bullshitter called Trump.

No worries, my post today is not going to be about politics. I simply have to write about bullshit (BS) today because in the past days, I simply encountered so much of it again. Yes, my students and everybody else who works with me knows that I use the word quite frequently on any given day. Still, there are exceptions and I am simply so annoyed by all the mega BS around me that I am really asking myself which measure there is — if any — to be able to tell bullshit apart from other things that are supposedly of value.

My Learnings

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” I am not going to renarrate how Frankfurt defines bullshit. After all, this is why he wrote the pamphlet and it is up to you to read it carefully. If you are not able to do so, you are most likely on an advanced BS level already. I am sorry to say this up front but that is exactly what I am observing around me. I am not sorry at all to also include (potential) clients in this group. This might be highly unprofessional as an entrepreneur but it is the “truth” as I see it. This is the least I can do — promise clients to tell them the truth. There are some clients who actually appreciate this — not all of them, of course.

When I refer to bullshitters today, I mostly mean people who are running a business by offering stuff that an elementary school student could teach. The difference is that the BS people wear a tie and they charge 4,000 EUR on average for a consulting day for their so-called “seminars” or “workshops.” What turns them into bullshitters instead of cheaters or any other label you might use is that they themselves are not even aware of the fact that what they are offering has very little value. They are simply confident and since clients continue buying and giving positive feedback — how could they ever think that they are selling BS?

This latter aspect is a tricky problem, of course. When I judge their stuff as BS, I am using my standard of knowledge. For sure, this is not the standard of all other people. I am not saying I know more or less than other people. I am simply saying that there is no objective assessment. Since we live in a capitalist world, the market demand determines the value of a good. Hence, nobody cares how I evaluate a certain good or service. If the clients are happy with the stuff and they are willing to pay much money for it, it is none of my business.

True, but I simply cannot help thinking and writing about it. How can it be that so many people who are supposedly educated and experienced in their jobs are not able to SEE that what they are buying is 80% BS? In other words: What they are buying not only has little value in and of itself, it also creates no added value to their business. What seems to blind them to this probably is: 1) sales excellence on the part of the bullshitter and 2) psychological hygiene. Both are things that seem to be quite needed, especially when “trainers” are selling “workshops.” The most important value they actually create is: “At least, the participants felt so great and everybody had such a wonderful time.”

Grrrrrrr……….

“Everyone knows this.” Well, I am not so sure of that. No matter how many people actually know about this, however, the old problem with this and most other BS in the world is that people do not TALK about it when they SEE it. They simply shut their mouth, as always, and they join the common swarm intelligence dogma. It goes like this: “Everybody else is smiling and happy about something presented on stage. Consequently: I am smiling and happy.” If you measured brain activity in such a moment, you would probably see a straight line on 0. Just like when watching Emergency Room: beeeep….

“Each of us contributes his share.” By shutting our mouth about it, we definitely contribute our share. But when talking about B2B-business, shutting your mouth is only one potential problem. The other one which is occupying me so much right now is: You need to be able to say NO to other bullshitters who are your (potential) clients. If they not only sell BS themselves but if they ask you to do BS for them and they pay for it — you are really close to getting into serious trouble. And this trouble turns you into a bullshitter on advanced level as well.

So, what can you do?

As to the latter case: You simply have to say “no.” There is no other option. If you say “yes,” you definitely contribute your share to the collective amount of BS on the planet. Of course, hardly anybody else is going to care about this because, again, as Frankfurt writes, we are used to this; BS is a cultural good already. Still, being turned into a bullshitter because you are accepting money for selling to another bullshitter leaves traces. Maybe not on everybody; but on me.

If I am being honest, I did say yes to creating BS in the past. And I am frequently tempted to say yes again. After all, business is not a piece of cake. You need to sell if you want to survive. If you say no to one client, that has consequences. Yes, there will be other clients again but some of these will also be bullshitters. That is simply probability calculus. But I am willing to accept this because there is one simple value in life that even BS cannot kill:

DIGNITY.

I encourage anyone who is currently facing the dilemma of saying “yes” to BS — please listen to your heart. Just like me who is not offering a concise definition of BS here (because this was Frankfurt’s achievement), nobody else is going to do this for you in real life. You will always have to rely on your subjective definition of what BS is in a given situation. Certainly, you can rely on your gut feeling. Remember, we are all used to BS. There is much evidence that you are very experienced in detecting and evaluating BS in daily life and business, even intuitively. Whenever you are sniffing a note of BS in the air — just raise your voice and name it. Yes, you might be losing money but you are winning the status of a role model in our society — someone who stands up for real value(s).

Reflection Questions

1) How do you define bullshit?

2) Did you ever consciously team up with a bullshitter? Would you do it again?

3) Let us assume you do not read the full pamphlet of Frankfurt after reading this post — does that turn you into a bullshitter because you are not interested in learning about the whole story?

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