Eight Business Terms that will Rot Your Brain

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We’ve just about overcome “paradigm” and “synergy” as the overused terms of choice in business circles, but we’re nowhere close to ridding the world of the glossary of vacuous words swarming business sections of bookstores everywhere.

Below are a few, in no particular order, that I think should be next on the business cliché hit list.  The sooner these are whacked, the better.

Guru– Describes someone who is especially expert in whatever it is he or she does. Example: “Make sure you give this project to Peter, he’s a systems networking guru.”  Can’t we just say that he’s a systems networking expert, or specialist, or that he’s a damn good networker? Who decided that a word meaning “spiritual leader” has a legitimate place in the business lexicon?  Please stop.

Drive to Ground – Conveys that an idea must go from theory to practice to become a reality. Sometimes replaces another overused term, “wrestle to the ground.” These are both good examples of pointlessly using a metaphor when a much simpler word would work, like “practical,” as in “This idea will only work if it’s practical.”  Seems much clearer to me and doesn’t sound as contrived.

Biobreak – Meaning, take a break to use the bathroom. This is beyond obnoxious. Everyone knows what their colleagues are going to do during the meeting break, so is it really necessary to add “bio” to make explicitly clear that they’ll be relieving themselves? 

Matrix – Describes anything that interlocks, crisscrosses, vectors, etc. A simple three column table can be a “matrix” and a massive multi-layer spreadsheet can be one, too. It’s one of those words that becomes whatever the user wants it to be, which is another way of saying that it means nothing.

Strategize– Meaning “develop a strategy.” The interesting thing about this term is that up until a couple years ago, it wasn’t even a word.  It is now, though I’m still not sure why it should be. But, I could go along with it if not for the fact that it’s more overplayed than the Black Eyed Peas. Same goes for “operationalize.” Too much “ize” gives me heartburn.

Node – I’m not even sure how to define this one, other than as a point in a “matrix”. It started becoming popular when people began understanding, in broad strokes, how the Internet works. Soon the term was co-opted in business circles to sit alongside “connectivity” and “network”—all of which were divorced from their original meanings.  The result is a mishmash of words no one can really define, but like clay that never hardens, they’re just so freaking malleable.

Learning Style – In this category we can also include Communication Style, Personality Style, and any other “style” term used to lump people into simplistic silos of thought and behavior. The way this works is analogous to astrology. If you make the descriptions of various “learning styles” broad enough, you’ll get the requisite number of people thinking they’ve been accurately described. If only we were that simple.

And finally,

Leverage – Meaning, “to make use of.”  When using business-speak, just about everyone and everything can be leveraged. Examples: “We need to leverage the hell out of this market!” “Peter brings excellent networking skills to the table and we should be leveraging them.” “I met with the sales rep and leveraged her into a better deal.”  In most instances, there’s a less mechanistic way of describing a situation that doesn’t come across as self-serving. The fact is no one likes being “leveraged” even if the term isn’t meant pejoratively. I think we’d be better off leveraging “leverage” into early retirement.


5 thoughts on “Eight Business Terms that will Rot Your Brain

  1. I vote for whacking “leverage…” especially when used as in, “Leverage the biobreak.”
    At AOL, I once filled an entire white board with over used AOL buzzwords… if I had only taken a photo!
    The one that drove me nuts back then was, “What are next steps?” Usually, at AOL, the answer was a round of layoffs.

  2. I think the emperor’s new clothes are being sold and resold among managers. Many consulting firms are looking for ways to say things that obfuscate the simple meaning of what they’re saying so that people will be impressed enough to pay their high rates.

    The managers in turn don’t want to look like a bunch of rubes, so they borrow that fancy talk and they often misuse and abuse it even further until there is very little meaning in what they’re saying.

    See http://professionalsuperhero.com/
    for further details.

  3. I think “guru” entered the corporate lexicography as part of the tech bubble. Back then, it probably was a good word in the sense that it described a geek who understood things at a level beyond the comprehension of mortal men (and investors). He had transcended whatever the rest of us knew about such things at the time, and the term was used–appropriately–only rarely or in awe.

    Information technology and networking are just not that far outside the common experience anymore, so it’s pretty silly. And now, to me, guru just connotes someone selling self-help, invariably someone who’s applied it to himself.

    I’m not really up on corporate doublespeak these days, but if I ever need a refresher, a few weeks of Dilbert will usually cover a year’s worth of neologisms and reveal them for what they are: meaningless filler.

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