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Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

The other pandemic: Title inflation

  • Inflation we’re seeing in currency and school grades now seems to have reached the good-old designation
  • Funky titles now serve the purpose of inflating egos. ‘Buzz Generation Consultant’, ‘Chief Storytelling Officer’ and so on

“Life Maximization Mentor" said the card. It was handed to me by a young, uncertain looking youth. Let’s call him Aavi. His valiant attempt at a fashionable beard was a crisis in cultivation. It would take a few years to fill out.

“What do you do?" I asked.

“I help people live life to the fullest. I help my clients identify mental blocks which get in the way of maximizing their fulfilment." His voice attempted gravitas as he picked at a pimple on his left cheek.

“How?" I asked.

“We first identify your blockages, then we clear them. For this we use many techniques including hypnotherapy, tantric healing, NLP and PLR. People have unique blockages and each needs a different solution. One size doesn’t fit all." The pimple started bleeding, but he didn’t realize.

“What is PLR?" I asked innocently, looking at his other, less gory cheek.

“Past Life Regression," he said, disbelief writ large on his face.

“Wow. So you know all these things? Hypnotherapy, PLR and all that?"

“Yes." for the first time he seemed to falter a little “I have a partner who works with me."

A saree-clad lady and a heaped plate of food joined us.

“Aavi, did you eat lunch? The fish in butter sauce is especially good. My god, what happened to your cheek, beta?"

We were at a forgettable conference. As I struggle to build credibility as a professional speaker, I speak anywhere for the practice, even free.

“Meet Mr. Mahajan. He will be speaking during the ten-minute slot at 6.30 PM when the bar opens," said Aavi, trying to change the subject as his mother fussed over him.

“Hello". She smiled and magically conjured a business card.

‘Life Makeover Master,’ her card read.

“She’s my partner," Aavi added.

Over the next hour I was enlightened about how we have blockages, and why we need them unblocked to have a life worth living. I also learnt how much food a middle-aged woman can put away. That could result in a blockage of another kind, I mused.

Heading home on the Metro, I scanned through the titles on the business cards from the conference. Many went well over ten on the 1-10 ‘bizarre titles’ scale. I miss the good old days of simple titles. You read the title and you understood what the person did. A brand manager managed a brand. A ‘General Manager – Finance’ generally managed finance. Deciphering a designation didn’t need any code-breaking skills.

But the inflation we’re seeing in currency and school grades now seems to have reached the good-old designation. Funky titles now serve the purpose of inflating egos. A cursory visit to LinkedIn throws up a galaxy of new-fangled titles. ‘Buzz Generation Consultant’, ‘Chief Storytelling Officer’ and so on. One gem was ‘Manager of First Impressions’ for a receptionist.

The most creative titles come from the ‘self-improvement’ crowd. Many such folks propound new, unproven techniques with ancient mystic origins they have ‘discovered’ and/or mastered. These folks insist something needs fixing, and then charge you to fix it.

Free of the control mechanisms of a large organizational hierarchy, these shoot-from-the-hip cow-girls and cowboys experiment freely with titles. In the land of the inflated title, theirs are the giant hot-air balloons.

Their titles fall in three broad categories: the positivity enhancer title, the problem solver title, and the complete bunkum title.

The positivity enhancer starts with a bunch of positive words, ‘Success, creativity, positivity, aura’ and so on. Then they experiment -- often challenging grammar -- to come up with new and possibly meaningless titles like “Success Positi-preneur’ or a tad saner ‘Aura Enhancing Expert’.

The problem solver will have a title in which they subtly spell out the problem in the first half of the title, and in the second half they convey how they are the perfect solution. Take Aavi, our, ‘Life Maximizing Mentor’. The first two words indicate that your life is clearly not maximized (whatever that means). The third word tells you how the person handing you the card can help you with that.

Then come the bunkum titles which leave one completely flummoxed. One was ‘Centered Pranic Healing Medico-preneur’. This guy wasn’t a doctor, or even an acupuncturist. I still have no idea what he does. Another title went ‘Quantum Consciousness Expert’. In my mind, I saw a cross between a spiritual supercomputer and Deepak Chopra.

In these titles, you will often find the mangled remains of the word ‘entrepreneur’. It could be ‘Passion-preneur’ or ‘Edu-preneur’ or an ‘Image-preneur’.

As the world around us changes exponentially, I know it’s silly to expect designations to remain static. Entrepreneurship and inventiveness are critical for us to innovate and think out of the box. I’m sure ‘First contact initiators’ feel better about their job than cold-calling salesmen. But still. Can we please have our General Managers back?

Chetan Mahajan is a writing coach, blogger and author. To convey coolness he calls himself the Chief Pfaffing Officer of the Himalayan Writing Retreat, which he co-founded.

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