Oh God SHUT UP: Your company/industry/economy did not fail because of a "perfect storm," a chance, disastrous combination of outside events. It failed because you sucked!

It turns out the term "perfect storm" is barely 10 years old and is actually derived from the book of the same name, later made into a movie. In the short interim period the "perfect storm" has become the perfect bleat for whiny businessmen everywhere.

The latest is Sam Zell, who blamed the bankruptcy of his Tribune Co. on a "perfect storm," even though print media was clearly in trouble when he announced his acquisition plans last year and he chose to load the company with a crippling amount of debt.

Normally awesome James Surowiecki of the New Yorker followed right behind, saying in the column published tonight that whole newspaper industry is in the midst of a "perfect storm," as though it hasn't been gouging classified advertising customers, ignoring problems of journalistic quality and underinvesting in technology for decades. And as though its cash cow wasn't stolen by a website published by one dude, using pine. PINE!

Yes, a command-line email shell is a terrifying piece of technology to be up against. Such a FIERCE STORM!

Anyway, here are some other business jerks, other than Sam Zell, who have recently bitched about their own little perfect storms:

  • Rick Wagoner, GM CEO. "Higher gas prices affected the sales of profitable SUVs, some aging models, higher raw-material costs, the bankruptcy of some suppliers... we got hit with the perfect storm." Ha ha right, who would have seen higher gas prices coming, except maybe someone who was alive in the late 1970s and remembered how GM got rolled by Honda and Toyota; or in the mid-1980s, when GM started Saturn to compete in the small car market.
  • Angelo Mozilo, CEO of mortgage-finance trainwreck Countrywide: "Mozilo [said] that we are seeing the makings of the 'perfect storm.' The bottom line is, as values decrease, the options for borrowers, homebuyers, the combination of limiting their product available to them is exacerbating the problem." Right, when you are running the most insanely aggressive subprime mortgage factory on the planet, any decline whatsoever in home prices looks like a terrible, "perfect" storm, instead of a bubble burst that had been predicted for something like four years running by everyone else.
  • BusinessWeek called the panic of '08 "Wall Street's Perfect Storm," because who on Earth could have foreseen problems lending money you don't have to people who can't pay it back for reason's you can't explain? Cheap credit was supposed to continue forever, and the downside of risk was never supposed to manifest.
  • Now we all get to blame our wrecked economy on the weather, instead of collective recklessness. A "preeminent foreign affairs analyst" told CNN we're in "a perfect storm. We have a collapsing housing market, weak consumer spending and a credit crisis."

The phrase just won't die. A university called for it to be banned in January. Just last week, Steve Pearlstein of the Washington Post made basically the same points I'm making now. And yet it keeps coming.

There is some small consolation in the fact that the phrase instantly flags to the listener/reader that a weak, lazy argument is probably being made, and that the phrase can be safely translated as "proximate symptoms of some root ineptitude." That right there is a perfect reform! (Not really.)