Institutionalised Thinking



From top: Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Gardar Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan; Tony Groves

We are all guilty of it, myself included, the institutionalised thinking bug. Almost 20 years ago, a Senior Banker asked me: “What’s the best thing about working for The Bank?

My ears burning red with embarrassment, I blurted out something about the Institution and the comfort of been under the umbrella, or some other clumsy metaphor (yes, clumsy metaphors are my speciality) to which the Manager nodded and smiled.

After I’d finished waffling he gave me one of the best bits of advice I have ever got in my life.

Pushing a big silver and black stapler towards me he said:

“That’s bullshit Tony, and you know it. Do you see that stapler? Pretend that stapler is your sales targets. Well, we’ll have a meeting about them, set goals and conduct a SWOT analysis to help get those goals.

Next year the same stapler is targets on mortgages and we’ll have a brainstorming session, set stretch targets and get a Sales Guru to give us a course on achieving them.

Then the next year the stapler is a Pension Growth target. We’ll say stuff like ‘proactive’ and ‘local marketing planning’. At the end of the day, Tony, after all these years, it’s the same f@cking stapler.

We move it around, reset the goal and make up new buzzwords, but unless you’re happy pushing the same stapler around then you’re in the wrong game.”

I thought of this again last week when I heard the Garda Commissioner, who has spent €93,000 in the Communications Clinic using management speak/ Pronespeak. I thought of it again when I heard a Justice Minister, who has spent €11,000 in the Communications Clinic, using the words of deflection and blame-throwing.

Someone asked me ‘why doesn’t anybody yell out stop?’. Well in every Institution the staff take their lead from their bosses. Tone from the top and if the boss can imagine/fabricate stories and then simply say Mea Culpa and shimmy away unscathed, then why can’t the others say things like “I’m on a journey” and walk away similarly?

We must respect the Institutions of Government, Justice and an Garda. Never mind the reality that these Institutions are disrespecting the very people they were established to protect. I’d wager more people believe in the Tooth Fairy than in the Institutions of the State.

Every year, as part of my real job, I have to complete an Ethics course. Failure to do so would mean I’d lose my Financial Designations and thus my ability to work. No amount of money to the Communications Clinic could fix that.

But perhaps if I re-designated myself an Institute

There’s a line in a Paul Simon song, Gumboots; it goes, “Why don’t we get together and call ourselves an Institute?” It can’t really be that simple, can it? It can and it is. The Iona Institute, The Economic Social and Research Institute, The Hibernia Forum, The Irish Tax Institute are but a few users of the trick.

You get a few lads together who have similar worldviews, call yourself a Think Tank or an Institute and you get an invite to every television panel show.

Nobody introduces an ESRI reports by informing viewers that they are funded by the government, which they are. Nobody likes to suggest that he who pays the piper, calls the tune. Nope, we wouldn’t want to question the Institutions.

Someone recently sent me the old Simpsons sugar clip. You know the one, first you get the sugar, then you get power, then you get the women!

In Ireland, first you pick your stapler, then you call it an Institute, then you get the power, then you get Terry Prone to cover up that it’s just a f@cking stapler.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld

115 thoughts on “Institutionalised Thinking

  1. classter

    This is an embarrassing mess.

    A jumble of thoughts, of varying levels of merit, shoved together.

    The biggest problem this country has is not our tendency toward clientelism in politics nor of management-speak in public bodies, it’s the absymal standard of public comment and debate which is so often expressed in this type of scattershot of hyperbole, insinuations and anecdote.

    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      Inclined to agree. One thing that will stop me in an article is the ‘we’ presumptive. E.g. ‘We all partied’, ‘we are all guilty of it’. I’m from the camp that encourages and promotes individuality and original thinking, so this really irks me.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        “I’m from the camp that encourages and promotes individuality and original thinking, so this really irks me.”

        Hands up everyone who regards themselves as slogan chanting robots.

        1. Spaghetti Hoop

          I don’t understand you Moyest. I am against journalists shepherding the population – aren’t you?

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Everyone is. It’s a fairly redundant statement. Also, it’s a teency bit OTT to accuse someone writing a blog entry of “shepherding” the population for using the royal ‘we’.

          2. Cian

            We are all against journalists shepherding the population.

            Oops. When I say ‘we’, I obviously don’t mean a presumptive ‘we’.


          3. mildred st. meadowlark

            Ah, the royal ‘we’.

            I try to make use of it when I can too. Shocking lack of opportunity.

  2. scottser

    i’ve got three staplers. one that i use that has my name tippexed on it, another wonky bast@rd that keeps catching that i give when asked for a lend of a stapler and a third that i robbed from a wan in here that i despise. i never use it but i figure it’s a cross between a guilty secret and righteous indignation.

    1. Listrade

      It’s disgusting that it took a whole 46 minutes from the article being posted for someone to reference Office Space. BS commentator standards are slipping.

  3. This monkey's gone to heaven

    I think this article needs an editor (obviously) but it’s one of your best efforts so far Tony.

    Having said that, and unfortunately, it is my opinion that, due to various structural and technical deficits, you’re not at the level or standard of writing that would merit more than a second glance from anyone. A pity, as I am sure you have some valuable insights to share. Maybe stick to boring your friends down at the pub with them.

  4. MoyestWithExcitement

    I heard a rumour that a lot of the regular commenters here are journalists. The incessant whining about ‘writing quality’ every time a columnist writes something that doesn’t sing the praises of the establishment class makes me think there’s something to it. Entitled, whiney, priveledged, right wing wannabe snobs.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        A publisher who’s well acquainted with the publisher/owner of this site told me that.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            You saw me use the word ‘rumour’, yeah? Suspiciously defensive there, Harold.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            Wait, you have to give an email address when you comment. Maybe that’s how he knows?

        1. rotide

          You just made that up didn’t you Moyest.

          I talked to someone from broadsheet towers once and there was no such assumption. Mind you that was before your time.

          For the record, not a journalist.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Lol! I’m happy to take that little tantrum as confirmation of what I suspected ages ago; that you try to give off the impression that you’re “in the know” to people here to make you feel more important than them. You’ve not really grown much since school, have you.

    1. classter

      I write the top comment criticising this article.

      I’m not a journalist and I don’t think I’m a member of the ‘establishment class’. Got a definition for that class?

        1. classter

          Because it sounds like a strong denunciation until you think about it for a second.

          Ireland is very socially mobile and that is reflected across the board.

          If anything, we might be better off it there was more of a genuine ‘establishment class’.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Nah I just can’t be arsed answering questions the asker knows the answer to.

          2. classter


            I don’t really know what the ‘establishment class’ is here. I’m genuinely not sure something meeting this description exists in Ireland in the sort of coherent, recognisable sense that it seems to in say France or the UK.

          3. MoyestWithExcitement

            Ok. The establishment doesn’t have to be monarchs or landed gentry. We have an establishment class of bubbled, privileged people here who network and protect each others interets through their control and manipulation of societal infrastructure.

        2. Painkiller

          Jesus, you are a tiresome troll.

          Here is the advice your peers never gave you. Get a life for yourself – or a job that doesn’t give you the capacity to come on here and endlessly sap the life out of everything with your ever expanding subject matter expertise.

    2. This monkey's gone to heaven

      I don’t know where you heard that Moyest but if your comment is directed at me, I’m not a journalist.

      And what’s a “wannabe snob”? Surely someone is either a snob or they’re not. You might want to have someone proofread your own contributions there mate.

        1. This monkey's gone to heaven

          How snarky. So you are 12 years old?

          Does your Mum even know you are on her laptop?

          Also please note those words are spelled:
          and “right-wing” should have been hyphenated.

          There was also a comma missing before “wannabe snobs”.

          You’re a good boy though.

      1. Harry Molloy

        You might have different points of view from the chap but your tone and language are incredibly similar. Plus he says his family are all socialists. You related? :-)

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          You’re a regular reader of his, then? Did you also laugh out loud when he whined about people disrespecting the holocaust victims by referring to people as Nazis mere days after he wrote some incoherent mess about “feminazis”? Man, he’s so stupid it’s *actually* funny.

          1. Ratatattat

            I get what you’re saying Moyest but don’t get the joke to be honest. He’s an awful bully and rabble rouser

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            He complained about ‘liberals’ using the word ‘nazi’ to describe the far right days after writing a big long whinge about feministsband repeatedly used the term ‘femiNAZI’. He also regularly goes on insane rants on twitter about women in general and regualrly uses the word ‘bint’ to describe them. If I didn’t know any better, which I don’t, I’d swear he was some wino living in a bedsit in Drumcondra who just drunkenly rants his columns down the phone for some poor intern to transcribe and then translate.

          3. Ratatattat

            No I understood all that. Just when you said it was “actually” funny – I was politely disagreeing !

          4. MoyestWithExcitement

            I meant *he* is funny, or rather the pathetic bitterness he feels towards polite society is sad and the way that bitterness regularly results in him owning himself is funny.

          1. Harry Molloy

            Just Moyest and his other personalities really. I like to try to have discussions and the craic is all.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            “Just Moyest and his other personalities really.”

            Other personalities? I have finally arrived.

          3. MoyestWithExcitement

            “I like to try to have discussions and the craic is all.”

            The other day you were lamenting how “we” have done nothing to modernise society in the Middle East.

          4. rotide

            Harry is one of the good ones round these parts.

            Moyest, well, he speaks for himself really.

          5. MoyestWithExcitement

            Here’s what rotide had to say on a thread about people fleeing war and persecution being given the same demoralising allowance for 17 years; “Much more importantly it was 47 years ago today that the beatles broke up”

          6. MoyestWithExcitement

            “he’s just projecting”

            :D Yes, mate. It was actually ME who said we feel guilty for not doing more to modernise Middle East socie…no, wait, that was still you. Do you even know what projection is? You’re a strange boy, Harold.

  5. Cian

    Leave the ESRI alone. No organisation is bias free – but they can try to be as neutral as possible.

    Would you also say that we can’t trust the CSO either – because they are state funded?

    anyway, if anyone is interested, here’s ESRI’s Statement on Independence

    “The ESRI is Ireland’s leading not-for-profit economic and social policy research institute. We are fully independent and our work is free of any expressed ideology or political position.

    The ESRI’s independence and objectivity is based on the quality of its research and the requirement for reports to meet high academic standards through peer review.

    The ESRI is committed to publish all research reaching the appropriate academic standard, irrespective of its findings or who funds the research. ESRI research is thus open to public scrutiny.”

    and then later:

    ” question which sometimes puzzles people is how the ESRI maintains its independence when so much Institute research is funded directly by government departments and agencies? Typically, following a tendering process or under a joint-programme agreement, funders come with a set of questions or issues to be examined. Institute researchers investigate these, drawing on high quality methods and relevant data. As long as the research meets the quality standard, the Institute upholds its right to publish. Funders come to the Institute for research precisely because they value high quality work, and are aware of the Institute’s independence as expressed through its policy on publication.

    Sometimes funders are not happy with what emerges from the research – routinely findings crop up that run contrary to what they would like to find. For example, results sometimes raise questions about the effectiveness of a particular policy intervention. However, the ESRI’s mandate is to publish what it finds and that is what it does and this is understood by those who fund the research.”


    1. Daisy Chainsaw

      In almost 30 years of listening to the ESRI, I’ve yet to hear them come out with something accurate.

      1. Harry Molloy

        I thought they warned about the housing bubble but were ignored? I’m open to correction though

  6. Fitzitagain

    This is like someone writing down their rambling day dreams while looking out the window. I’m also reminded of Homer Simpson.

    1. bisted

      …from Frank Grimes in the Simpsons to Gareth in The Office, Tony is employing a powerful motif in the stapler…what you tykes might call a meme. Wonderful allusions there Tony…keep it up…

  7. Boj

    The flippin Institute of Journalism seems to be all over your work today Tony.
    This whole bloody country is an institution! Step out of line and you’ll know all about it. Hoop talking about being a original thinker etc, encouraging & commendable as that is (as an anonymous online profile), it’s this very process which IS NOT ALLOWED in Ireland. You are looney, you are a fool, your writing ‘needs an editor’ (FFS) sneer sneer sneer.
    Respect to Tony, keep up the good work.

    1. Dead Poets Society

      What good work? I see two sides of the same coin. Utter conviction swimming in a sea of uncertainty. As Oirish as that he complains of.

      1. Boj

        And I see dead people…would ya ever…with your ‘sea of uncertainty’
        Keep up the good work Tony.

        1. Dead Poets Society

          Boj , Boj. The column is as hollow as the metaphors T despises. The problem with such flawed rhetoric is that they do not enrich debate, they just shut it down.

    2. This monkey's gone to heaven

      What on earth are you on about? Are you trying to censor and sneer at the very thing you claim to be a supporter of? I actually like Tony and some of his ideas. I just think he’s a very, very poor writer.

          1. This monkey's gone to heaven

            That’s a bit unfair to Moyest. I hate when people wade in with gratuitous insults.

        1. This monkey's gone to heaven

          You’re welcome. Albeit I’m not masquerading as, or aspiring to be, a respected columnist.

      1. Dead Poets Society

        You accuse me of “sneering ” and yet you wrote:
        “Having said that, and unfortunately, it is my opinion that, due to various structural and technical deficits, you’re not at the level or standard of writing that would merit more than a second glance from anyone. A pity, as I am sure you have some valuable insights to share. Maybe stick to boring your friends down at the pub with that :”
        You seem to be lacking in both literacy skills and self-awareness. You sneer, I sneer , we all sneer .

        1. This monkey's gone to heaven

          My comment was directed to Boj. You appear to be unable to use the internet.

          1. Boj

            Dead poets read my mind for the reply anyway. :-P
            Comments get messy and hard to follow after a while – a well needed improvement BS

      2. dan

        Just curious, but what’s wrong with his writing exactly? Other than maybe personal taste issues, I don’t see anything particularly wrong with the writing here.

    3. rotide

      Boj, you seem to be confusing two different types of critism here.

      one is a disagreement about the substance of the text. Cian above has a comment that takes this tack.

      When I said his writing needs an editor it has nothing to do with the concept of his ideas and everything to do with the coherence of his message not to mention the plethora of typos.

      Sneering at that idea makes you sound like a teenager in a strop because he can’t use text speak in an exam.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        “Sneering at that idea makes you sound like a teenager in a strop because he can’t use text speak in an exam.”

        Not a hint of irony. Fella, *all* you do is sneer at people here.

  8. Daisy Chainsaw

    In Ireland, first you pick your stapler, then you call it an Institute, then you get the power, then you get Terry Prone to cover up that it’s just a f@cking stapler.

    I’m getting this on a teeshirt.

  9. mildred st. meadowlark

    Why is there no section of BSTV dedicated to ‘pronespeak’.

    Weekly examples of waffle, jargon and shiteology that the internet/terry can produce.

      1. mildred st. meadowlark

        I think PR is mad. It is literally lying to make it sound like the truth but slightly less offensive. We all do it.

        Poorly executed PR is like a being a bad liar, or something.

        I think that having a segment where examples of PR, good or bad, is looked at, analysed or poked at has the potential to be interesting.

        It doesn’t have to be just the prone #notallprone

        Russia probs have some great stuff, but my Russian is somewhat awful.

  10. GiggidyGoo

    We all know what happened to Joan of Arc. Nowadays we use a shortened version J-ARC. Frances giving Noirin her birthday card above.

    1. Dead Poets Society

      “especially the negatives”. * staple 1, staple 2, staple 3 * Like the hubbie re-rranging the dishes in the dishwasher:)

    2. mildred st. meadowlark

      I always enjoy your articles, whether I agree with the tone or not.

      I think you’re doing a great job of finding your ‘voice’, so to speak. I think a strong editor would go a long way towards making your stuff really work.

      Keep it up Tones.

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