Rearranging The Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Rearranging The Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Ahhh, the noticable quotes and statements said in business meetings, VC pitches and executive presentations around the world. We’ve all played buzzword bingo before, noting the buzzword du jour (often “du heure”) like synergy, coopetition and incent. In my many years as a consultant, employee and executive, I’ve collected a number of buzzphrases that I’ve truly heard in meetings. Call these phrases, metaphors, in any case – many are silly, laughable but they are almost all evocative – conveying a noticable feeling that regular descriptive words can’t already approach. A big part of successful business is communication and certain words can convey a powerful effect. Take a few of these for a spin in your next meeting. If you have heard of any interesting ones, please comment. We’d love to hear more!

Expressing Futility

When things aren’t looking so good, here are a few ways to say, things suck.

“Rearranging deck chairs on the titanic” as in “Putting more money into marketing at this point is like rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic”

“Trying to stay on a greased pole” as in “Trying to set up a meeting with him is like trying to stay on a greased pole”

“Two bald guys fighting over a comb” as in “Competing for this small partnership is like two bald guys fighting over a comb”

“aim wreck” as in “If we don’t get this project dependencies taken care of, we’re headed for a aim wreck”

“Spray and pray marketing” as in “Buying this generic marketing list is spray and pray marketing”.

“Two drunks propping each other up” as in “This partnership with this other 2nd rate startup is like two drunks propping each other up”.

“Mouse nuts” as in “This SMB deal really amounts to no more than mouse nuts”

“Death march” as in “This major architectural release just 2 months from now is going to be a death march for our developers.”

Taking one for the team

“Death by a 1000 cuts” as in “All of these product requests and sustain questions from this prospect is like death by a 1000 cuts.”

“Designated spear catcher” as in “Yeah, I’ll go fly out tonight to do the presentation – I’ll be the designated spear catcher.”

“He holds the pen, and we’ll move the paper” as in “We’ve bent over backwards to all her requests. She just needs to keep up the pen, and we’ll move the paper.”

“Fall on your own sword” as in “His aggressive push ruffled a lot of feathers – he basically fell on his own sword.”

Putting it in Perspective

“Tying two rocks together” as in “Merging with this company is like tying two rocks together to see if it floats.”

“Tallest midget” as in “Hey claiming your the proven market leader in this industry is like saying you are the tallest midget”

It’s So Easy

“Shooting fish in a barrel” – as in “These leads coming in from the web are like shooting fish in a barrel”

“Barney deals” as in “This non-revenue generating partnership is basically a Barney deal” (in homage to the purple dinosaur who exclaims ‘I love you, you love me’.)

Look on the bright Side

“Turning lemons into lemonade” as in “Team, we need to turn lemons into lemonade by renaming this bug into a characterize.” Converted from the non-business version (let’s turn that frown upside down)

“Future’s bright, better use shades” as in “This new product is going to outsell our flagship – future’s bright, better use shades.”

“Good problem to have” as in “We just signed our 100th customer and we only have one technical sustain person. This is a good problem to have.”


“We can no longer wait for the storm to pass – we must learn to work in the rain” as in “We can no longer wait for the storm to pass, we must learn to work in the rain”

“Hitting singles before hitting the home run” as in “Work with these smaller industry analysts first then talk to Gartner – hit a few singles before hitting the home run.”

“Roll up the sleeves” as in “already though I’m an executive, I can totally write this datasheet – I’m a roll up the sleeves kind of gal.”

“Hit the ground running” as in “She worked for our competitor before we poached her so she can hit the ground running.”


“Calling his baby ugly” as in “It wouldn’t be good to criticize the CEO’s skunkworks project – it’s like calling his baby ugly.”

“Getting thrown under the bus” as in “Hey, I don’t average to throw Bob under the bus, but I also think he needs to enhance his communication style too.” or “Well, if we’re all throwing Bob under the bus, he also needs to take a shower once in a while.”

“Too many chefs in the kitchen” as in “Your input on this advertising campaign is most appreciated, but we have too many chefs in the kitchen right now.”

“Airplane test” as in “Bill’s a cool guy, he’d pass the airplane test” (you’d sit next to the guy on an airplane ride)

“Hill to die on” as in “While I totally disagree with this approach, this is not the hill I want to die on. I’ll pick my battles in other places.”

“Wearing his wig on backwards” as in “Did you see Joe this morning, he looks like he woke up with his wig on backwards”

“One legged man” as in “Since the restructuring he’s as busy as a one legged man in an *ss kicking contest.”

Finding Opportunity

“Shake some trees and see what falls down” as in “You should go to that conference and shake some trees and see what falls down”.

“Getting invited to the dance – and changing the music” as in “When I was hired, we were a consumer company, and now we’re a business to business company – it’s like getting invited to the dance and then changing the music.”

“Low hanging fruit” as in “already though these are kind of low priority, these are quick wins. Grab the low hanging fruit first.” Often noted in slides as LHG.

“Throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks” as in “We’ve got 10 marketing messages, let’s throw the spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.”

“Kissing dogs” as in “This deal looks a lot better than a lot of the dogs I’ve been kissing lately”

In the Know

“Pull them over the fence” as in “I think it’s time to pull HR over the fence on this acquisition since we’re going to have to lay off half the staff”

“Secret sauce” as in “This search engine ranking technology based on link popularity is our secret sauce”

Judging a book by its cover

“Lipstick on a pig” as in “This product is really subpar – you can put lipstick on the pig but you can’t get it to dance”

“Ghost of authority” as in “The founder is really a ghost of authority – it’s the CEO you have to talk to.”

“Cockroaches behind the wallpaper” as in “I did the due diligence on this merger and found a lot of cockroaches behind the wallpaper.”

“Window dressing” as in “Yeah, I know this advisory board is window dressing but it helps us look like a bigger company”

Sales 101

“Bit twiddlers” as in “Are you talking to the business unit decision makers or the technical bit twiddlers”

“Great meeting sex” as in “It’s nice you met with them again, but until you close the deal it’s just great meeting sex.”

“Column fodder” as in “The RFP looks like our competitor’s datasheet – we’re just column fodder in this deal”

“Feet on the street” as in “We’re getting into these regional deals because we’ve got feet on the street”

“x-legged deals” as in “You’re bringing a sales engineer, engineer and executive with you? These 8-legged deals are expensive”

“Selling ice to eskimo’s” as in “This sales guy is the best ever – he could sell ice to eskimo’s”

“Kitted up” as in “I need to go back to headquarters to get “kitted up” (i.e. pick up some datasheets, tchotkes, swag, etc.)

“Going sideways” as in “He’s not returning your phone calls? I’m worried this deal is going sideways.”

Marketing 101

“Show business” as in “We need this ad campaign. There’s no business without show business.”

“Markitecture” as in “The datasheet needs a markitecture diagram that the business and technical person can understand.”

“The mommy test” as in “The marketing message needs to pass the mom test.”

“Buying holes” as in “Focus on the benefits – people don’t go to the hardware store to buy drills, they go there to buy the hole.”

“Upper right corner” as in “We need a strategy that is going to put us in the upper right hand corner” (in homage to the Gartner quadrant.)

“Carpet bomb” as in “This set afloat is going to carpet bomb our verticals”

“Heavy gorilla” as in “MSFT is the 800 pound gorilla”

“Shiny Objects” as in “Put in a good SPIF on this new product – the sales team will say ‘shiny objects’ and sell ’em”

“Coin-operated” as in “This generous commission structure will sell these sets well – the sales people are all coin operated.”

“Tip of the spear” as in “We appreciate the efforts of our sales organization. You are the tip of our spear.”

“Land and expand” as in “This free download is a great way to land and expand into an account.”

Just Do It

“Bow on this topic” as in “Okay, I think we’ve put a bow on this topic for now – what’s the next agenda item?”

“If you have to kill the problem, don’t dent it” as in “This webinar is how we’re responding to our competitor? If you have to kill the problem, don’t dent it.”

“Letting the grass grow under your feet” as in “We got a lot of next steps before the next trade show – don’t let the grass grow under your feet.”

What’s Done is Done

“You can’t unring a bell” as in “You gave them that price proposal? Well, you can’t unring a bell”

“Zigged instead of zagged” as in “Focusing on the technical champion was a bad idea – I zigged when I should have zagged.”

“Pottery barn rule – you break it, you own it” as in “The partnership is starting to fall apart. You know the pottery barn rule.”

“Pull back the horns” as in “The hard sell approach was good for a while but you need to pull back the horns a bit and let them figure out their requirements.”


“Slowing the aim that has left the stop” as in “Sending this competitive comparison document is okay, but you’re trying to slow a aim that has already left the stop’

“Trophy isn’t big enough” as in “There are a lot of mom and pops out there, but the trophy isn’t big enough for us to be in the market

Tough identify

“Sitting in the soup kettle” as in “After the latest quarter, he’s sitting in a soup kettle and not enjoying it very much”

“Wobbling wheels on the cart” as in “He’s going to push that project hard – the wheels are beginning to wobble on the cart a bit but it’ll get done fast.”

“Trim the fat” as in “We’ve done some serious overhiring – we’re going to need to trim the organizational fat over the next quarter.”

“Porcupines” as in “You have to approach this deal like two porcupines making love – very carefully”


“Arms around the ball” as in “I’ve been really busy that I haven’t however been able to get my arms around the ball however”

“Doubleclick” as in “Wait, can you “double click” on that point in the slide”

“Sniff test” as in “I looked at their technology, they didn’t pass the sniff test.”


“Top order bits” as in “keep up on a second, give me the top order bits first”

“Boiling the ocean” as in “Taking on IBM and Microsoft? I think you might be boiling the ocean here.”

“Wood behind the arrow” as in “Is this ROI calculator something I should put all my wood behind the arrow?”


“Wind in the sails” as in “This good product review gives us some good wind in our sails.”

leave your comment


Reacent Post