Bafflegab is bad. It’s not useful. It’s gibberish. It’s the disposal platitudes you sometimes read (and ignore) in mission statements and vision statements and the likes. It’s
“Dilbert“[like]-fodder that generates cynicism and contempt. It is, at best, a big waste of time.
[Of course,] Effort is not strategy. Neither are financial projections. And neither are wishes.
Still not getting bafflegab? How about some examples? Examples of bafflegab are everywhere. It can be seen in education:
For example, in 2008 the Los Angeles Unified School District adopted seven “key strategies,” including to “build school and District leadership teams that share common beliefs, values and high expectations for all adults and students and that support a cycle of continuous improvement to ensure high- quality instruction in their schools.”
Bafflegab can also be seen in industry and in government. It is also in space policy and strategy documents.
Here’s a small and innocuous bit of space bafflegab from the National Security Space Strategy:
The National Security Space Strategy charts a path for the next decade to respond to the current and projected space strategic environment. Leveraging emerging opportunities will strengthen the U.S. national security space posture while maintaining and enhancing the advantages the United States gains from space.
Our strategy requires active U.S. leadership enabled by an approach that updates, balances, and integrates all of the tools of U.S. power.
The NSSS goes on to say it hopes to “Strengthen [U.S. and allied] safety, stability, and security in space; Maintain and enhance the strategic national security advantages afforded to the United States by space; and Energize the space industrial base that supports U.S. national security.” How the U.S. will do this in an environment the NSSS itself characterizes as increasingly congested, contested, and competitive (and costly, to add another “C”) remains to be seen, even ignoring the fiscal challenges the defense community is now facing. Because of all this, it appears the NSSS is unachievable, and as such, it’s a waste of time and money.
Here’s another piece of space bafflegab from the National Space Policy:
The United States hereby renews its pledge of cooperation in the belief that with strengthened international collaboration and reinvigorated U.S. leadership, all nations and peoples—space-faring and space-benefiting—will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced, and their lives greatly improved.
Space bafflegab is (metaphor warning!) basic boilerplate that is incapable of guiding funding decisions, the actual arena where the space rubber meets the road. As such, such space bafflegab fails to advance events towards outcomes with meaningful utility.
But what is useful? Good space strategy.
A strategy “is a way of dealing with a high-stakes challenge,” [strategy professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management Richard] Rumelt told me [article author Virginia Postrel] in an interview. “It’s a way around the obstacles or problems in a difficult situation.”
“Strategy is scarcity’s child and to have a strategy, rather than vague aspirations, is to choose one path and eschew others,” writes Rumelt.
A strategy is not a goal like maximizing shareholder value or keeping America safe from terrorism. It’s not even a plan. It is a design — a coherent approach to defining and solving a particular problem, in which the different elements have to work together.
Bad strategy, Rumelt writes, goes wrong in four common ways. Many bad strategies are just superficial nonsense expressed in big words, which Rumelt very politely calls “fluff.” Others fail to define the challenge. Some mistake goals or wishes, for strategy. And some set impossible objectives rather than focusing on modest but achievable ones.
Even when it doesn’t lead to bad decision-making, Rumelt argues, formulating bad strategy hurts organizations.
So what to do? Just say ‘no’ to space bafflegab. Say ‘no’ to its creation, its alleged importance, and attributions of its usefulness. Leaders should not task staff to create bafflegab and if so tasked, staff should push-back (but that’s easy for me to say. What are the chances?).