“We are becoming addicted to bullshit buzzwords.
Emails are full of “I’m an insider” jargon, blog posts brim with tech duckspeak, and resumes are loaded with meaningless action verbs.
Everyone’s always implementing or enabling or optimizing or leveraging.
There are endless value streams, efficiencies, solutions, infrastructures, and enterprises.
These buzzwords are often a mask.
People who use them are covering up their ideas — or the lack thereof.
They are overcompensating.
They don’t have anything substantial to say so they try to use impressive sounding words instead.
But people who abuse buzzwords don’t sound smart.
They sound like they are trying to sound smart.
People who really get it aren’t impressed by this sort of jargon.
They smell BS.”
One Monkey’s Uncle
I will begin my thoughts on buzzwords <see ‘bullshit’ in the dictionary> by mentioning business books.
Business books are to the weed industry as to what Scott’s is to the grass industry.
Business books cultivate the most resilient weeds ever known to the business world – buzzwords.
They set solid roots because most of these words aren’t really wrong … but they are also really not right.
They look good … sometimes as attractive as the plush grass surrounding them.
They can grow in any business climate.
They are not seasonal … an all year plague to the environment.
I just do not read business books <unless forced to>.
Many people seem surprised when I say I don’t read a lot of business books.
I have scanned Tipping Point to 7 Leadership Habits to Purple Cow stuff … but I start tuning out when the buzzing in my ears makes it difficult to separate fluff from the fold.
I guess Voltaire must have faced his generation’s version of bullshit because he said this:
“A witty saying proves nothing.”
I guess what drives me a little nuts about it all is the fact that all these witty buzzwords are simply old ideas <often very good solid ideas> being covered up in something new and glittery <or gooey> and re-introduced.
They are simply great looking weeds dotting a lawn you are doing your best to maintain.
And ultimately all the bullshit words, i.e., buzzwords, do two things:
– confuse people
You would think a word <or simple phrase> that can capture the essence of a thought would be a powerful communication tool in clarity … and not confusion.
Well … therein lies the strength of this weed.
It simplifies to such an extent in this beautiful soundbite that it has to ignore the true complexity of which it actually addresses.
And then the beautiful phrases start rolling off the tongue like honey …
“You can’t have your cake and eat it, so you have to step up to the plate and face the music.”
Downsizing just means you fired people.
Best practices simply means you had a worse practice … but practice has made perfect <until you revise your best practices to become ‘bester’>.
You get the point.
Straightforward words are … well … straightforward.
They are less confusing.
They don’t sound flashy or sexy but they get you to the finish line faster.
And remember time is money.
These books make the authors of the weed fostering landscaping expertise but they cost you, in business, money by either having you try and force fit the weed into your landscape or having to invest the energy trying to kill the weed so you can build the environment you want.
Next <number 2>.
– make it more difficult for business people who know what they are doing to do what they need to do.
I alluded to this issue as I ended the first point on confusion.
Sometimes you invest so much time trying to not only explain your own buzzwords but try to match them up with whatever buzzwords are buzzing through all the other business mouths around the table you never get around to doing what you need to do.
“How are we going to build a tribe?” <become Indians>.
“What is the brand going to promise?” <nothing … it can’t talk>.
“We need to build a plan around the customer” <versus an alien?>.
The difficulty resides in the unfortunate fact that, if you want to get something done, you need to know the room’s vocabulary.
And buzzwords have made it more difficult. All they have done is increase the size of the minefield you need to navigate in a business environment. They have increased the complexity to conduct business in a common sense way.
Buzzwords are just good looking weeds.
And while I am truly only interested in creating the most beautiful business landscape you have ever seen … I know I have always wanted to know the most recent business book a person I am meeting with has read so I don’t get blindsided by some new word <weed>.
Is this a good use of time? Probably not.
But that is how business is done these days.
In fact … it has become such a standard road block to doing common sense business that I have also made it a standard business practice with groups I have managed to hand out a list of words and definitions at the beginning of a meeting so there is at least some alignment on vocabulary.
And just as something to think about … oftentimes these are the most basic words – vision, mission, difference, distinctness, character, personality … bla bla bla.
So I say those two things to things to suggest buzzwords & bullshit is … well … a time consuming energy sucking business practice.
These words have been bantered about so often by so many people it is almost like that game you play where you put ten people in a line and the first whispers a scripted thought to the person next to them and then that person whispers it to the next person … and so on … and the last person has to write down what was whispered to them to compare with the original script.
99% of the time it has been mangled in some way. And in the mangling it actually loses its true meaning.
This means that, somewhat surprisingly, you spend a lot of time upfront trying to match up their words to your words. But you may as well get it out of the way upfront <and at least you know how much time you have left to talk about what needs to be talked about>.
At their worst I have seen buzzwords bog down a great business idea because someone wanted to make the idea “fit” to a buzzword rather than care about the idea.
It can be frustrating.
But here is the good news <said sarcastically>.
There is an actual Buzzword Bingo game invented in 1993 by Silicon Graphics so you can recognize the words.
The concept was popularized by a Dilbert where the characters play it during an office meeting.
Let me tell you … I do not plan on writing a business book … but if I do … I would not take it as a good sign if it would show up in a Dilbert comic strip or The Office or any sitcom.
If you want to generate your own bullshit buzzwords, here you go:
http://www.dack.com/web/bullshit.html <fabulous word generator>.
And now I will share some of my favorite weeds which cannot be killed.
You should note the part that really sucks.
Some of these words are addictive.
You use them once in a sentence, even without thinking, and before you know it you use it again maybe later in the day.
Then the next day it pops up again randomly.
And then again.
And then … well … you have been sucked into the buzzword black hole.
<insert a loud ‘sigh’ here … as I know I have fallen into it on occasion>
Some of the weeds dotting your lawn …
Synergy <synergize, sin … oh … no … that one is okay>
Cutting edge <bleeding edge, dull edge, anything associated with any edge … but not The Edge of course …>
Transformation <transforming, Transformers>
Reengineering, Reengineer, Fire engineers
Paradigm <paradigm shift>
Best practice <versus … okay practice, bad practice, no practice, piano practice>
Holistic <solutions neutral, 360 view, right solution right time>
Vertical Market <niche market, silo demographic, user nation, loser nation>
Strategic Alliance <… I have always been curious … would you ever have an alliance with someone you didn’t see eye to eye strategically with?>
Ball’s in your court <delegate, dump, avoid responsibility>
Win – win solution <versus the ever attractive lose – lose solution>
User friendly <client focused, service oriented, customer centric … as if saying it out loud will make it happen>
Team dynamics <no ‘I’ in team>
Value added <because why wouldn’t I seek as many de-valuing ideas as I could?>
State of the art
Smartsize <versus idiot proof … or maybe “murphy’s law proof” which … by the way … is not possible>
Change the goal posts <milestones, re-vision, target goals>
Reinvent the wheel <who said the wheel was so awesome?>
Dot the i’s <cross the t’s, umlaut the o’s>
Think outside the box <which I tend to believe means that you are endless wandering somewhere outside the box of what matters>
My head hurts from all that bullshit.
I get to end this buzzword rant with an advertising campaign from a company who I would have assumed has a PhD in bullshit buzzwords <IBM> and yet they poke fun at all the bullshit.
I truly appreciated IBM’s television campaign which kind of poked at its old image to make a point about their new attitude <and it is actually pretty funny and it is really well done>.
Great campaign using bullshit bingo to communicate a straight talking attitude.
IBM bullshit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5zRe8wa4pM
A last thought.
A quote about weeds as a matter of fact.
While Bill Bernbach is talking below about advertising I believe it is more about communication in general.
It is talking about talking about ideas <yeah. that made sense>.
So maybe we should think of buzzwords not as bullshit but as weeds to be plucked from the garden.
“Our job is to kill the cleverness that makes us shine instead of the product.
Our job is to simplify, to tear away the unrelated, to pluck the weeds that are smothering the product message.”
Just as weeds are the bane of any good lawn … bullshit words are the bane of the business world.
When in doubt … pluck the weeds.