Home > Satire > The Jaded Gen-Y Guide to Business Buzzwords

The Jaded Gen-Y Guide to Business Buzzwords

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Every profession has jargon that is used as shorthand, and that’s great. Using jargon is necessary so a carpenter doesn’t have to say “that big metal doo-hickey” and so scientists don’t have to use long, boring explanations to explain what a uberthermodynamic enthropic reaction is (disclaimer: I don’t think that is real). These words and phrases are around to make their lives easier and less confusing. Buzzwords in business, however, seem to be around solely to make everyone a little more confused. I think they’re around so that you can convey meaning where none actually exists and so you can sound more important than you actually are. It’s the same reason some writers use the term “antediluvian” just to say “before the flood” or “really old.”

I’m not very fond of buzzwords. For the reasons I previously listed, they’re made fun of by a lot of people (present company included). This scene from 30 Rock is a great parody of using buzzwords. I went to B-School (Go Badgers) so I have a pretty good idea of what they actually mean (most of the time). I’ve seen more acronyms than I could ever remember, have heard of more “blue oceans”, and have explained the “hedgehog concept” (all it means is “do what you’re good at.” HOW IS “HEDGEHOG CONCEPT” EASIER?). Naturally, I’m a little jaded.

Here’s a layman’s dictionary of buzzwords you’ll hear in business, PR, and marketing from someone who is a little cynical about them. If this blog was a tabloid, I’d call this post “The Definitions THEY Don’t Want You to Know!!!” Check it out after the jump, and leave some more of your favorites in the comments.

  • Innovation: New product or technology. Pretty simple idea, but when you think about how many times something is called “the most innovative thing ever,” it gets a little annoying. Artificial light was an innovation; that new flavor of Mountain Dew is not.
    • Usage: “Announcing a new innovation in the way you drive to work!”
  • Real-time: Just like it sounds. Instant feedback. Twitter is real-time feedback from the world. Morse-code on a telegraph was real-time feedback, too. Remember that.
    • Usage: “Delivering real-time answers to all of your innovation needs!”
  • Dynamic: Quick-changing. It’s a term used in most industries, but it irks me in business. Today’s world is a lot more dynamic than it used to be.
    • Usage: “New, dynamic innovation that provides real-time answers to life’s problems!”
  • Groundbreaking: A really awesome innovation (see above). Changes the industry, sometimes the world. Not always great (right, hydrogen bomb?)
    • Incorrect Usage: “This super-awesome Kool-Aid is groundbreaking because it changes color when you add water!”
    • Correct Usage: “Controlling fire was a groundbreaking technology for cavemen”
  • Best Practice: This one I’m a little foggy about. I’m pretty sure it just means an agreed-upon strategy that provides value in an industry (Wikipedia says I’m pretty much right)
    • Usage: “A best practice in the fishing industry is to use bait”
  • Cutting Edge: New, groundbreaking (see above)
    • Usage: “Pre-slicing bread was cutting-edge technology when this best practice of the bread industry was unveiled in 1952” (disclaimer: that’s probably the wrong date)
  • Product Integration: Paying for your product to be in a television show, movie, radio, etc. See: “Product Placement.” Example: ET and Reese’s Pieces. See also: every other television show and movie for the past 30 years
    • Usage: “But sir, putting Marlboro in “Toy Story 3” sounds like poor product integration!
  • Seamless Integration: One thing and another thing go well together without any problems. Probably used most in mergers and acquisitions. I imagine this comes from the garment-making industry.
    • Usage: “No, Marlboro is seamlessly integrated in “Toy Story 3” because one of the toys is a cowboy!”
  • Think outside the box: Novel and creative thinking. Term coined by someone who probably never thought outside the box
    • Usage: “They must have really thought outside the box when they put cigarettes in a children’s movie, because now I really want a Marlboro!”
  • Synergy: Oh, synergy. Poor, poor synergy. Whipping boy of the buzzwords. The scapegoat. It’s a medical term adopted by business that basically means “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It’s not always a great thing in medicine, but businesses LOVE synergy.
    • Usage: “By combining our businesses (chocolate and peanut butter), we can achieve synergy by making an incredibly delicious snack! This peanut butter and chocolate candy is better than if you just added peanut butter and chocolate together!”- Whoever made Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  • Low-Hanging Fruit: This one really annoys me. It’s some sort of fruit-picking metaphor adopted for business. In reality, it just means to reach the easiest goal without too much effort. If you were a lion, getting the low-hanging fruit would mean attacking the fattest and slowest antelope.
    • Usage: “We can capture the low-hanging fruit of the fast-food industry by targeting fat kids who already like our cheeseburgers!”
  • Secret Sauce: Seriously, I had never heard of this one before the list came out. Apparently people use it. Presumably, it’s derived from the fast food industry and means “Thousand Island Dressing,” but I think it actually just means “your strategy or product that gives you an advantage over everyone else, but they can’t figure out what it is”
    • Usage: “We need more secret sauce! Put that mayonnaise out in the sun!” (Disclaimer: That quote is from The Simpsons)
    • Business Usage: The secret sauce of McDonalds’ success is its consistency between each store; a Big Mac in New York is the exact same as a Big Mac in Tucson. And the secret sauce of McDonalds’ Big Mac is actually the secret sauce.
  • Paradigm Shift: I assume this means “using your secret sauce and thinking outside the box with a groundbreaking and innovative cutting edge technology that provides synergy and allows you to capture the low-hanging fruit with more ease to get real-time, dynamic results.” Otherwise, I think it just means something new and different is happening that revolutionizes the way people see your industry, business, or environment.
    • Usage: “Social Media is paradigm shift in Public Relations”

There are hundreds and hundreds more, but I’ll let you find them. Really, there’s a time and place for everything, even these buzzwords. I’ve used them a lot in resumes and applications and other business documents without remorse. They make me sound credible (which is exactly why everyone else uses them), and when used appropriately some actual do mean something (I’m talking to you, synergy).

I think writing with buzzwords is like going out for a night of drinking (maybe that’s why they’re called “buzz”words?). Think about it: if you have a few buzzwords or have a few drinks, you feel smarter and more confident. After a few more, you start to feel dizzy and unbalanced. After too many, you feel like vomiting, nobody understands what you’re saying and you’ll wake up in the morning feeling terrible about yourself. Remember, the content you create and the strategy you come up with is more important than the words you use to describe it. You need to use these words in a way that provides actual value and understanding. Buzz Responsibly.

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Categories: Satire Tags: , , , ,
  1. July 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Great attempt at a science word at the top Tom! Also, do you have a secret infatuation with Reeses? I mean, who doesnt?

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