Overused Management Bromide Now The Exclusive Property Of Carly Fiorina, Apparently

Carly Fiorina speaks during the Freedom Summit, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Carly Fiorina speaks during the Freedom Summit, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Those who closely followed the 2014 midterm elections were treated to any number of compelling stories about candidates poaching one another's ideas and passing them off as their own. Well, here in the early stirrings of the 2016 campaign, we have our first similar accusation, and -- my, oh my! -- it establishes a near-unmatchable standard for silliness. Per The Daily Caller's Al Weaver:

During her speaking event in Silicon Valley, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemingly snagged a campaign line from potential GOP 2016 candidate Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Clinton, the presumptive 2016 candidate for the Democratic Party, called on attendees at the conference to “unlock their full potential,” a line Fiorina uses.

That's right -- for whatever reason, the Carly Fiorina campaign has decided to claim exclusive ownership of one of the hoariest phrases in the universe of vapid corporate platitudes. All political campaigns are hopelessly trite, but it's a rare one indeed that chooses to go to war over its triteness. "Back off," the Fiorina camp seems to be saying. "Banalities are our shtick."

Some backstory: Fiorina has been, at various times, a tech CEO, an adviser to John McCain and a contender for the U.S. Senate -- activities that she performed to varying degrees of "meh." Now she's a 2016 presidential hopeful, in the sense that she hopes to gin up enough interest in her candidacy that someone will come along and insist she be "drafted" into the presidential race. To that end, she has set up a political action committee called "Unlocking Potential."

That is, at the very least, a unique name for a political action committee. Where the names of most PACs seem to suggest "we threw a particularly patriotic set of magnetic poetry tiles at the Frigidaire to see what stuck," Fiorina's PAC name tells a different story. And that story is: "Yo, Cory says the whole development team is going to a yoga retreat in Palo Alto this weekend."

The real purpose of Fiorina's PAC, of course, is to "unlock" the "potential" of the savings accounts of various elite mega-donors. In fact, this is the real purpose of every PAC. So in a way it's nice that Fiorina's camp is sort of winkingly honest about it. However, according to Sarah Isgur Flores -- formerly the deputy communications director for the Republican National Committee, and now a member of Fiorina's team -- it is objectionable for anyone else to use the term "unlocking potential," because this is a concept the Fiorina campaign has decided it owns.

Of course, as most residents of Earth probably know, "unlock your potential" is basically a banal utterance, used by any number of management consultants, life coaches, personal trainers and ashram owners. It's what the personal growth guru tells his audience in the Radisson ballroom right before he has his assistants, Parker and Trish, come out with the T-shirt cannon.

In fact, "unlock your potential" may actually be the most banal phrase these Thought Leader types employ. You know how in the last puzzle of every "Wheel of Fortune" episode, the contestant is just given the five most popular consonants and the letter "E"? Well, "unlock your potential" is the management-speak version of that. Attempting to claim exclusive rights to the phrase suggests an interesting combination of mile-high chutzpah and pride in clearing the lowest bar imaginable.

If you think I exaggerate about the ubiquity of potential-unlocking, I'll note that Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan have all used the phrase at one time or another. The savvy Amazon shopper can also get similar advice from Todd Wissler, C. James Jensen, Brian Tracy, John Mattone, Mark McDonald, Michael Hera, Phil Parker, Dominic Carubba, Patrick Bunker and Joyce Handzo. Winston Churchill has talked about it. Deepak Chopra has talked about it. Even Confucius has, apparently, discussed this. Has New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman used the phrase? It insults me that you'd even ask me to check.

Honestly, I feel bad for everyone involved in this story -- The Daily Caller for writing about it, the Fiorina camp for whining about the issue, Hillary Clinton for sounding like an instructor at a Bikram studio, everyone with a political action committee who won't bite the bullet and just call it "Give Me Money So I Can Win An Election And Get Connected To The Gravy Train Of Corporate Lobbyists." I feel a great pity for the lot of them. But I am glad that this somehow, against the grain of good sense, became a thing, because this was hilarious. Imagine if the Fiorina campaign had just done something like, I don't know... substantively rebutted Hillary Clinton's policy ideas and decisions with well-reasoned arguments? They might have managed to unlock their hidden potential.

If I could offer some advice to the Fiorina campaign, there's something that I always say in these situations: Politics ain't beanbag. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and you've got to wake up pretty early in the morning if you want to go big or go home. Go ahead and use those lines, guys -- just cut me a check first.

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