At a glance
“Turn any boring meeting into an exciting adventure … Share cards with friends … Drag and drop to arrange words … Keep a list of your favourites … There will be no meeting you will not enjoy!”
The words above are actually a description of an app on Google Play, but there are plenty of others as well as paper-based versions, all of which are meant to be played during meetings, presentations or long conference calls.
Welcome to Business Buzzword Bingo. The goal is to tick a set number of words and then signal “bingo” to other participants in workplace situations where speakers needlessly use buzzwords instead of detail and clarity.
That buzzword bingo exists says much about the proliferation of buzzwords in business. The Google Play app says that when the app is used, “the speaker is usually pleasantly surprised how carefully he [or she] is being listened to, and people even take notes.”
When buzzwords fail
Buzzword bingo players are taking notes, but for all the wrong reasons. Others simply tune out – not because there’s anything wrong with peppering a talk with a buzzword or two, but because overusing jargon irritates listeners and causes them to wonder if you really know what you’re talking about.
Buzzwords are widely used by IT professionals, but tech pros tend to share the same lingo. In other sectors, buzzwords backfire.
For example, start-ups often pitch themselves as the next “Uber of …” or “growth hacker”. Some claim to be “solopreneurs”.
Billionaire venture capitalist and partner at US-based Founders Fund, Peter Thiel, says he finds the overuse of buzzwords deliberately misleading and an attempt to “mask that you are completely undifferentiated from other companies”. Ouch.
Regardless, a new crop of buzzwords has emerged in 2017 – most beyond parody but some with merit. Here’s a list of the best and worst:
Intrapreneurship: Why risk entrepreneurship when you can become an intrapreneur, creating innovative new ventures within an established company? Even if they flop, you still get paid. Another similar buzzword is “change agent”. Whatever happened to “business process reengineering”?
Pivot: Entrepreneur Eric Ries coined this as a part of his lean start-up method of business development. It is now just another way of saying your original idea crashed and burned and you’re making a “paradigm shift” to something that might work.
Martech: Marketing technology has long been used by advertising agencies and traditional media to gauge audiences’ receptiveness to content. Still, times change and to measure your current Martech “stack”, or suite of something, take this quiz.
Deck: Speaking of “stack”, card sharks will be familiar with the term “stacking the deck”. In offices everywhere PAs are “teeing up new decks” – namely collating a series of slides for their boss’s next PowerPoint presentation.
Moat: These days, protecting a new product or service from invasive competitors seems to have more to do with medieval warfare tactics than conventional copyright. Building a “moat” around a business was popularised a decade ago by Warren Buffet, but thanks to Game of Thrones it’s now de rigueur.
Unicorn: US venture capitalists invented the term to describe tech start-ups valued above US$1 billion. It has since caught on elsewhere, but why not call a unicorn what it really is – an incredibly successful new business?
Playing in the mud: Undertaking a task for which you think you are overqualified and having to work with people further down the corporate ladder.
Gamification: The practice of turning social media marketing into a game where loyal followers receive prizes or discounts. However, it risks putting short-term “likes” ahead of a sustainable strategy.
ITL: A sad euphemism for downsizing. You don’t need to fire someone, just send them an acronym – ITL – for “Invitation to leave”.
Side hustle: If you’re on the receiving end of an ITL, consider a “side hustle” – something that will tide you over during the notice period and grow your bank balance.
Blue sky thinking: Utterly annoying idiom from yesteryear that continues to gain traction. It refers to ideas without allowing reality or current thinking to cloud your thoughts.
Datification: Big Data has turned into a tired cliché, but not so datification. The Internet of Things makes datification a potentially useful buzzword: after all, what gets measured gets managed.
Transformative: It’s no longer enough to fiddle with minor reforms to create improvements. Metamorphosis through transformative blue sky thinking is mandatory.
Sweep the sheds: A bizarre expression for requiring more attention to detail.
Runway: The time it will take before a company runs out of money.
One throat to choke: Holding an individual to account when things go wrong – in other words, finding a scapegoat and hanging them out to dry.
Thought shower: When you have no idea, invite others to shower you with theirs. It’s sometimes called an “idea shower”. What’s wrong with old-fashioned brainstorming?
Bandwidth: A company or individual’s capacity to resolve a pressing issue or problem.
Swim lane: An individual’s specialisation or area of responsibility.
Social mediaisms moving into mainstream conversation
Adopting a “low key” approach is one thing, but social media has popularised the use of “highkey”, as in “I highkey love that plan,” meaning I like that plan a lot.
Worse is abbreviating “relationship” to “ship”: “We have a great ship with the client.”
Finally, one of the biggest buzzwords doing the rounds: the more “woke” someone is, the more they understand a topic. “He’s so woke!”
Anyone using social mediaisms in business communications deserves to be challenged: are they fair dinkum (“#FR” – for real) or “deep diving” into a “swim lane” in desperate hope of an “end-to-end solution”?