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Tech cliches to live by

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos says that when it comes to trite catchphrases, we're at an inflection point.

Todd, a friend of mine, once gave me an invaluable piece of advice: if you fall asleep in a meeting and wake up not knowing what's going on, just say "so where's the value add?" at the first pregnant pause.

I laughed, but then one day tried it. It worked. The slight upward trajectory of my career began.

You can try to rise through the ranks through hard work, diligence or brilliance, but sometimes the best solution is to be a pleasing, predictable suck-up. You know the type. They participate in meetings and projects by raising provocative-sounding solutions, which, upon further examination, turn out to be opaque or impossible. But at the time they sound great.

So what are some of the choice inanities for you to blurt out?

1. They need a Lou Gerstner type.

More than 20 years old, but still going strong, the Lou-as-corporate savior comment still echoes through corporate hallways.

Lou, of course, was a gifted leader. He could bend steel bars with his hands and his goatskin never emptied of wine. And, he always left a campsite cleaner than he found it. The analogy, of course, ignores a key factor: gifted leaders are made by favorable circumstances. Lou had IBM--home of 300,000 employees and Nobel prize winners--to work with. It's not like he had to turn around Unisys. Same goes for Steve Jobs. Have him turn around Zenith if he's so tough. Maybe this is why you never hear "They need a Michael Capellas type."

But it's a great thing to say.

2. Anything to do with Moore's Law.

There are a couple of variations on the Moore's Law bit: "That could be the end of Moore's Law" and "We're going faster than Moore's Law." But the important part to remember is, after blurting it out, look up to the ceiling and assume a facial expression of great mental effort. It doesn't matter what you are talking about--a frozen yogurt machine, the Gillette Mach 3, free nuts from an airplane--people will think you've temporarily transcended the space/time continuum.

Generally, "the end of Moore's Law" line is supposed to mean that your next product is so good people won't need better ones after that, causing sales and revenue to plummet. But remember, Boo Berry followed Count Chocula. Progress is a one-way street.

3. Be like Google.

As in, "How come you can't come up with an idea that makes a billion dollars a quarter, like Google?" or "How come you can't read my mind, like Gordon Lightfoot?"

Recently, an analyst said that the solar industry wouldn't take off until they learned "to be more like Google or Salesforce." Fine. But if Google had to go onto your roof for two days, erect a bunch of heavy equipment, and charge you $40,000 to get you to start searching, you'd probably stick with Yahoo.

4. It's an inflection point.

Back in the 1990s, society hit an inflection point every six weeks, alternating on three-day weekends with paradigm shifts. It was exhausting. The future was a full-time job. That's the real reason people put beanbag chairs in their office. The craze has slowed a bit, but you can still get away with heralding a turning point in the history of toner cartridges.

5. Let's tear everything up.

A friend actually went through the tear-everything-up exercise once, about 15 years ago. The firm laid everyone off. They ripped out the file cabinets and in general did a Planet of the Apes on the place. "This is great," he called me from the mayhem.

Unfortunately, it usually just means swapping the VP of marketing and sales with the VP of sales and global solutions. Still, when stuck at an impasse, it's great to say.

6. Just think what Apple could do with that.

You can almost imagine the guys behind the counter at Dairy Queen tossing this one back and forth when dissecting the new menu at Sonic.

7. It's a different business model.

We call it Web 2 and 5/8ths.

8. Follow the money.

The choice phrase of the slightly crazy corporate slacker. Follow the money. See where it leads. Who's paying you? It's a fun way to raise the specter of a conspiracy without having any details.

By the way, Hal Holbrook first blurted that one out in All the President's Men. As a change of pace, I'd like to hear people quote something from Mark Twain Tonight ("that cow had a tail like a bananer") instead.

9. Patents are stifling innovation.

Really popular these days. If green is the new black, patents are the new medical malpractice. Oddly, very few people actually personally will ever a) invent anything worth licensing and b) get involved in one of these lawsuits. But it shows emotional turpitude.

10. History is written by the victors.

Translation: I am right because you won. Thucydides served as a general on the losing side of the Peloponnesian War before writing the book. The Prince? Machiavelli was in the losing camp of several political battles. You don't see a lot of books in the Vietnam War section by authors from Hanoi. Losers write all the time.

Although this saying tends to alienate many, the intellectual running the coffee cart will love you.

And if you have any more cliches, please run them up the flagpole.