Note: This post was contributed by former Grover Joy Jennings
Who can we blame for all the buzzwords that have crept into our day-to-day speech? We never seem to use these words outside of the office, but boy, do we love 'em in meetings and e-mail. I think some people hear a good one, then can't wait to trot it out in their next conference call.
See if you cringe at these top seven offenders. I confess to having used these, usually against my better judgment. Feel free to send your own least-favorite buzzwords to me.
- Mission-critical. I guess this one came around when some management guru told everyone to start writing mission statements, vision statements and elevator pitches. And then like glassy-eyed converts, we all spent 18 months bickering over conference calls about the best wording for such claptrap so that we could print it on the back of our business cards and hide it on a never-visited page of our Web site. Then anything critical became "mission-critical." Well, folks, abort the mission.
- Key. This is a synonym for "important" that irks me no end. Primarily because it's uttered throughout organizations on company time, but is never used when you're talking with your friends and family about what's important. Lose your keys. Please.
- initiative. Companies used to have projects or maybe new products. Now any endeavor, particularly a new endeavor, is an "initiative." God help me, I never want to write another press release about an initiative.
- Strategic. This is maybe the worst adjective on the list. Companies love to have "strategic" business partners. I suppose this makes the partners feel better. But really, wouldn't you guess that any partner is going to be a business partner? And isn't any business partner part of some kind of strategy? (And isn't "partner" a legal term that we need to stay away from entirely?) The other crap-tastic usage is the strategic business unit. Two of those words are simply unnecessary. It's just a unit, end of story. Basically, if you need to clearly label what you're doing as strategic, you have bigger problems.
- Going forward. In the future, we're all going to live our lives going forward. From now on, we're going forward with a new plan. And we'll continue our business careers, eschewing buzzwords like "going forward."
- Functionality. Engineers and other product designers love to list the functionalities of their beloved products. I'm here to point out that "function" is a very useful noun that means the same thing. "Feature" is also an oldie but a goodie. "Capability" can also serve your needs quite well. Let's all agree to do our very best to find other words instead of this grating buzzword.
- Solution. I feel guilty about this one because it is in the name of the last company I worked for. I couldn't avoid it. But any business journalist will tell you that they particularly dislike this buzzword. Lots of technology companies can't bring themselves to say that they have products, systems or even services -- no, they must have solutions. But never to problems. Nuh-uh, that's a bad word that is rarely uttered. No, they have solutions to "challenges."
You probably have other buzzword examples. I do too. "Value-added," "heads-up," "learnings" and "think outside the box" can all drop out of the lexicon yesterday if it was up to me.
Buzzwords are bad because they get in the way of clear communication. Our colleagues think they make them sound smart -- or they're so immersed in corporate-speak that they truly can't think of a better alternative. As communicators, it's up to us to show them the way.