Office Speak: One Throat to Choke

A colleague used this phrase today followed by another colleague saying they had never heard it before. I was surprise because I’ve heard it used on many occasions, but that it doesn’t mean that I like it.

The phrase probably dates from the mid-1990’s but it’s not that widely used so it’s not easy to tell, Google Ngram shows 1990’s anyway.

For those of you who haven’t worked out what it means, this phrase is normally used in a business relationships. Business relationships can become complicated by multiple parties being in the interactions. What can then happen when there is a problem is that everyone looks to everyone else to resolve the issue. Simplifying a network of relationships into a single supplier can make problem resolution easier by giving an organisation one throat to choke, that’s the way the theory goes anyway.

IT has used this phrase a lot because most IT implementations involve many organisations; one organisation provides the network, another the storage, yet another the system software and someone different the application, someone else provides support and yet another organisation provides security software. That’s where an outsourcing organisation comes in and says “we’ll do that integration for you and you’ll have one throat to choke.

It sounds like a logical thing to do, but it comes with problems. Those problems have led many organisations to move away from this single-source model towards one where they use multiple-sources that they manage directly. I don’t want to get into what all of those issues are here, but it’s interesting to see a popular phrase from the mid-1990’s characterising a popular approach from that time being out of fashion some 20 years later. It’s not just the IT industry that has been through that change.

Having one throat to choke has always seemed to me like a very negative way of viewing it. The opposite of this phrase is having all of your eggs in one basket which is far more popular and it’s probably far more likely to be relevant.

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