Office game makes
corporate blather entertaining
Hey, boss! Are your employees suddenly paying closer attention? Perhaps even
hanging on every word?
You may be the vector of a new paradigm, as proactive team players synergize
an out-of-the-box strategy of functionality and infotainment, re-engineering
the learning curve framework of your
Or, in plain English, your management-speak may be fodder for a trendy
office game called Bingo Words.
"The key to its popularity is that anybody who's listening is now
realizing that these people are talking and not making any sense," says
Benjamin Yoga, co-founder of Beep Beep! Media, an Internet company in Montreal.
"People who use these buzzwords are just trying to sound
intelligent, to give
themselves an air of top-management power. If people have to listen, at
least we can
give them a laugh."
Mr. Yoga is co-writing a Bingo Words Bible, complete with rules, variations,
anecdotes and lists of words. It's due out this fall, but there's no need to
Just compile your favorite corporate culture clichés, either in a
simple list or in bingo-card form. There are a few Internet sites that offer
ready-made lexicons or let you print out Bingo Words cards for free.
"This works for any field - business, education, sports, medicine,
anything," says Mr. Yoga who developed a computer program to
generate random bingo cards and happily gives it away. "I talked to
somebody at NASA who wants to customize it for themselves."
Bingo Words players take the lists or cards - discreetly - into a meeting or
other assembly, then check off the buzzwords as the speaker utters them.
"I've been in meetings that you know going in are going to be
particularly painful, and you'd probably rather be anywhere else," says
Henry Snytsheuvel, a former Dallasite who works in San Francisco as an
independent marketing consultant for high-tech companies. "Bingo
Words is the next best thing to caffeine. Sometimes it's even better,
because you don't get the jitters."
An engineer named Martin at a defense company in Fort Worth says bingo
players there haven't had the nerve to take their cards into the conference
"We mostly keep track of it at our desks," says Martin, who -
visualizing that blamestorming might get his mission outsourced and himself
right-sized - doesn't want his last name used.
"We just play from what you hear over the wall of
your cubicle," he says. "We're management-heavy and they're just
spouting it off nonstop. It's almost too easy to play some
But yell "BINGO!" at your own risk.
Speaking in low tones over the phone, Martin says he doubts his bosses would
appreciate knowing that their thought leadership and pet phrases such
as "let's see if we're singing from the same hymnbook,man" are part
of a game.
"I don't think they could figure it out," he says.
"Still, we just call each other up and say we won."
In meetings, Mr. Yogarecommends a cough or other subtle signal to your
colleagues. One Internet site suggests proclaiming victory while still sucking
up to management by exclaiming, "Bingo, boss! You got that
Despite researching his book, Mr.Yoskovitz says he's not sure where
all this started. Some accounts credit a Silicon Valley scientist named
Tom Davis, who wrote a card-generating program back in 1993. Word
eventually reached cartoonist Scott Adams, who found the subversive wit
ideal for a series in his Dilbert comic strip.
In 1996, pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) passed
out Bingo Words cards for the commencement address by Vice President Al
Gore, who loves to talk about the future, the information superhighway,
emerging technologies and all the rest.
"You are surely familiar with the tendency of nontechnical people
to use buzzwords when discussing technical issues," the
instruction sheet condescendingly declared. "This hack is designed to
gently remind him that he is at MIT, where we can see right through his
Mr. Gore didn't seem to mind. Students with "paradigm" on their
cards cheered when the magic word came up in the speech. Apparently tipped off
to the joke, the vice president said,
"Did I hit a buzzword?"
Mr. Snytsheuvel was initiated about a year ago.
"I was going into a meeting," he says. "One of my clients
said, 'Have you heard about Bingo Words?' He handed me a sheet of
words they thought were trite and overused and meaningless. It was great. We
had some very dull presentation that went on and on and it kept everybody in
the room focused."
Now an experienced player, Mr. Snytsheuvel says the contest is most fun
when the bingo caller has no idea what's going on.
"You can sort of see the dynamics of the room change, especially
if people are facing one another," he says. "You can see eyes
darting around or people trying to work their words into the discussion. It
really fosters a sense of camaraderie."
In Fort Worth, Martin and his co-conspirators have been at it for
about a month. They download bingo cards from the Internet, but he has one
"We still have to modify them a little bit because we're not
that in tune around here," he says. "We're just so far
behind the power curve on our buzzwords."
As a consultant, Mr. Snytsheuvel also works the other side of the bingo
equation. His advice to buzz-wordy bosses is great?
"I'd probably want to co-opt it," he says. "You need to
make sure people are not just listening for the words but absorbing the
"So I'd say, 'We're here and we have an important mission. But to
add an element of fun, let's play Bingo Words. And maybe there'll be a nice
prize at the end.' "
Get in the game with a Happy
Want your own Bingo Words cards or word lists? Type "Bingo Words"
in your Internet search engine for a list of helpful sites.