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
dotted-line relationship.

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 wait.

 Just compile your favorite corporate culture clich├ęs, 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 room.
 
"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 days."
 
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 right!"

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 strategy."

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 complaint.
 
 "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 content.

"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 Ending

Want your own Bingo Words cards or word lists? Type "Bingo Words" in your Internet search engine for a list of helpful sites.





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