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The Ugly Truth: Five Pieces of Business Jargon You Need to Stop Using Now

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

The Ugly Truth: Five Pieces of Business Jargon You Need to Stop Using Now

Business people love buzz phrases and words that suggest a higher level of thinking and action than they possess the capability for. Just like children will try to use big words to impress adults, business folks will try to use buzz phrases and words to impress their colleagues. However, children can be excused for doing this because they're children. Adults, on the other hand, should probably be punched in the kidneys for doing so.

Here are just five phrases from an entire lexicon's worth that could stand to never be used again:

1. Sharing Economy: Perhaps the most annoying phrase currently making the rounds. This term resulted from the urge to manipulate simple minds into falsely assuming their contributions to business reflect goodness and egalitarianism. First of all, the exchanging of money for services already has accurate descriptive termssuch as renting or hiring (not sharing). But "Rental economy" sounds kinda crappy, hence the loving and nurturing "sharing economy." However, the fact remains that if someone pays to occupy a room in your house or to take a ride in your car, it's not sharing; they are renting the space and time in your home or car based on mutually agreed-upon conditions and agreements.

2. Disruption: We have the tech bros to thank for the bastardization of this term which once held some sanctity as a legitimate term prior to its dilution into the swamp-water of business-speak. Now, everyone wants to be the next disruptor or generate the next disruption -- such rubbish. Reminder: as a naturally-occurring phenomenon, disruption has already existed for centuries without our needing to create a special word for it. And just because something disrupts, it doesn't make it cutting edge or cool as much as it just marks the inevitable passage of progress. The steam engine disrupted horse-and-carriage, obstetricians disrupted the midwifery industry, political systems disrupted monarchies, condoms disrupted the original viral industry, etc. Disruption is not special. Sometimes diruption blows everything out of the water, but more commonly, disruption also just happens as we evolve socially and technologically. Not everything that comes into being represents a damn revolution.

3. Thought Leader. This term presents another example of a made-up term to describe something that previously required none. "Thought leaders" have always existed in all societies, except they did not call themselves as such--probably because they suspected the silliness of doing so. You see, being a thought leader says nothing special of anyone's abilities apart from their ability to think. After all, you just have to voice thoughts, not actually create and build a movement and have some physical or measurable evidence of progress. Hey, I have thoughts on some new Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavors--dammit, I'm a thought leader!

4. Opening the Kimono: Never mind the blatant, cheesy sexuality behind this phrase, why has no one commented on its sexist and culturally insensitivity? If you were talking to South Asians, would you feel comfortable asking about, "unraveling the sari?" If talking to Germans, would you offer to "unbuckle the leiderhosen?" But perhaps a kimono presents a safe alternative given the passive and submissive nature of East-Asian feminine stereotypes? Perhaps this exoticism excuse the sexist imagery? Why don't we in the West just say "Lift the skirt" instead to be more culturally appropriate to our own environment while still relaying the same concept? 

 5. Bandwidth: Business people love to borrow tech phrases to make themselves appear smarter or more complex. Bandwidth, in this instant, basically refers to a person's ability to take on certain work and responsibilities. When faced with too many duties and responsibilities, we have supposedly "exceeded our bandwidth." But why this silly terminology? Bandwidth represents the range of frequencies within a given band, in particular those used for transmitting a signal in any of multiple formats with varying demand levels and forms within a finite range. Not being able to send a single email out because of a wicked hangover in tandem with laziness should not compare your bandwidth as smilarly taxed impacted. This presents a scenario similar to someone who describes their job as interfacing with others. Advanced pieces of technology that have to account for, anticipate, and react to various user demands are said to interface. If just speaking to someone represents interfacing then you possess an unreasonably high self-estimation of communicational worth.

Also, please also stop using:

Deliverables (as opposed to what? Take-ables?)

Key metrics (as opposed to non-vital-and-just-plain-goofy metrics?)

Organic anything

Core competencies (versus randomly orbiting partial skills?)

Paradigm anything

Repurposing (just say recycling because that's what you mean)


...and so many others. 


Renee Broadwell

I agree with all of your examples, Jeevan, and am happy to keep the curmudgery (new word?) going. I'm annoyed when people use verbs as nouns, such as ask, and nouns as verbs, such as office. It only bothers me more when someone tells me how long the particular use has been acceptable. Don't even get me started on impact, reach out, dialogue (as verb), go (as noun), etc.


July 7, 2016

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam
Jeevan Sivasubramaniam

Renee, we must start a revolution immediately!

July 7, 2016