The Top 10 Business Oxymorons

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines words that are apparently contradictory. However, the truth is that the oxymoron may or may not be true, or is a mixture of both. In business, oxymorons are plenty and it takes some sophistication to discern its actual meaning.
Some people think that in business, oxymorons are just a play on words with no use or relevance to actual work. But those who take the effort to understand their implications will be better placed to navigate the complexities of business. Get started with these common oxymorons:
Easy delegation. Since delegating a task means giving the job to someone else, it is but natural to expect that it should make your life easier. This is both true and false. True, properly done, delegation will lessen your workload and free up time to focus on more important matters. However, delegation is a skill that is not easily mastered. There will be countless challenges and not everyone is up to the task.
Business ethics. Whether or not this is an oxymoron is debatable. There are those who believe that it is not possible to succeed in business without some ethical transgressions. On the other hand, many people are convinced that having an ethical reputation is the foundation of any business. They say that nobody would like to deal with somebody they cannot trust.
Job security. A long time ago, it was not unusual for a person to spend his entire career in a single company. Even if there were better opportunities elsewhere, people rarely changed jobs unless the offer was truly astronomical. Unfortunately, such situations are much less common nowadays. Job security even in large companies is by no means guaranteed. One of the most serious threats to job security is the trend towards outsourcing. Since companies are no longer that paternal to employees, in return, employees are more likely to engage in job hopping since many think that job security is a thing of the past. Those who long for job security will have better luck with a government position.
Zero Defects. For many years, I was unconvinced of the wisdom of this oxymoron. I was more a believer in Murphy’s Principle, which states that “what can go wrong will go wrong” than the seemingly foolish quest for perfection of Zero Defects. However, there are situations where people respond better with Zero Defects than with Six Sigma, maybe because they understand the concept better; but nevertheless, the results are what matter. I am still sceptical on a generalized application of Zero Defects, but if some companies are able to benefit, then it is not all bad.
Riskless investment. Nowadays even U.S. treasury bills, the gold standard of conservative investments, have lost their AAA credit rating. But even before this, it has been a given that there are no riskless investments. Thinking that a certain venture is a sure thing has cost more bankruptcies than could be counted.
Moving target. This means that objectives are continuously changing, usually to meet a higher standard. What do you do if the target is moving? Learn how to anticipate competitors’ moves. Always try to be at least several steps ahead. Realize that with the possible exception of monopolies and oligopolies, everything in business is a moving target.
Going into business for yourself. This is probably the greatest oxymoron. It implies serving yourself when the focus should be on taking care of your customers. It conjures unrealistic expectations of easy money when the reality is very hard work for an uncertain reward.
Working vacation. Usually this applies only to business owners since there is hardly an employee that will agree to such arrangement. A working vacation is no vacation at all since at any given point in time, you may be interrupted from your revelry. For a vacation to be genuine, only critical emergencies should be entertained. On the other hand, the opposite is preferable; you could take advantage of a business trip to have some rest and recreation.
Healthy competition. Normally, competition means less sales and profits since you have to share the market. So what does healthy competition mean? If you are the established business, you would tend to think that any competition is not healthy. But if you are the incoming competitor, you would interpret healthy competition as levelling the playing field so that you would have a better chance of ousting the current market leader.
Friendly takeover. Even if the takeover has the blessings of both the top management of the dominant firm and the acquired company, employees must be prepared for the worst. In almost all cases, there will be layoffs. This is not due to any malevolent intentions on the part of management. It is just that there will be redundancies and moves to cut costs. Employees better play safe and anticipate the potential risks to their position.
*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. C-4, Sunday, August 19, 2012. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.