Why we bullshit at work

And how to cut it out.

by Stephen Jones

We all know bullshit when we smell it, but why is it so prevalent in the corporate world? In a recently published paper, Andre Spicer, professor in organisational behaviour at The Business School (formerly The Cass Business School), offers some intriguing thoughts.

Bullshitting – which Spicer defines as empty or misleading communication – is a social practice. It emerges within organisations and among groups as a way of helping people to feel like they fit in, navigate day-to-day interactions and reinforce a positive image of themselves or the business. 

Spicer says there are three situations that cause it to spread. The first is the ubiquity of what he calls “conceptual entrepreneurs”. Self-declared gurus, “thought leaders” and, occasionally, academics who push poorly evidenced, misleading and seductive ideas – for example, about entrepreneurship – that are then repeated or taken on by followers. 

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