In theory... Blue-sky thinking

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

Just when you had got used to brainstorming, along comes another management phrase du jour: blue-sky thinking. "Do skies think?" you ask yourself. "Do I need to be lying down on the grass around the back of the office to do some of this?"

So what exactly is blue-sky thinking? Like most management jargon, the term is thought to have emanated from the US. It refers to the act of unfettered, visionary strategic thinking that every leader or manager should indulge in from time to time.

The idea is to start from the perspective of a peaceful and expansive sky unencumbered by dirty grey clouds (your boss), noisy jumbo jets (your colleagues) or passing pigeons (competitors), and let your imagination run wild.

The term is now a favourite of David Brent-style managers and is as ubiquitous as the obligatory thinking outside the box.

Is this a good thing? Apparently not. A recent survey by YouGov on behalf of Investors in People revealed that 42 per cent of the 2,900 workers the market research firm questioned said that talk of singing from the same hymn sheet, taking the helicopter view and blue-sky thinking led to a feeling of alienation and low morale among employees because they couldn't figure out what their bosses were banging on about. In fact, the use of such ambiguous terms caused misunderstanding about roles and responsibilities, which is potentially disastrous.

Confused? It gets worse. After one neologism comes another: blue-ocean strategy. Essentially, a blue ocean in business-speak means an expanding, competitor-free market that an innovative company can exploit. A red ocean, on the other hand, is a highly competitive and overpopulated market segment.

Enough is enough. Third Sector advises its readers to forget about blue skies and red oceans and concentrate instead on the job in hand. You might just get something meaningful done.

- Emma De Vita is a senior section editor on Management Today.

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