How Words Become Jargon

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Are you in the middle of a deep dive to find synergies so your SWAT team can move the needle? Did you put a pin in a game-changing disruptive innovation to deal with the elephant in the room that was just put on your radar? Are you out of bandwidth because there is too much on your plate?Ping me when you're free so we can touch base on that bespoke development opportunity. I don’t want to throw you under the bus but we need to assure our ducks are in a row on this critical initiative. If you want to take this offline, reach out. We’ll whiteboard how to hit the ground running with the low hanging fruit to do more with less.

If you are like me, that paragraph of nonsense made you cringe. It is a lot of words that essentially say nothing. Corporate jargon is a much-maligned topic. I don’t know anyone who likes it but I also don’t know anyone who doesn’t use it. As a marketer, it is an argument I have with myself on an almost daily basis. How can we claim to be different while using the same meaningless language that everyone hates? On the flip side, I need to make sure my content and website are optimized for search terms that people actually use.

The problem with jargon doesn’t stem from the words in and of themselves. When a new piece of business terminology is first introduced, it is done as a metaphor or analogy to make something clearer, to differentiate one term from another, or to illustrate a point. When used in this manner, as a substitute or enhancement to, something else, this term has a purpose and, most importantly, meaning. The problem starts when it becomes “cool” to use these hip new words and people do so where it isn’t necessary. The substitute starts to surpass the primary and the business term becomes jargon. With each subsequent use, jargon loses its some of its power and its meaning becomes more obscure. Take for instance the word “agile.” Agile means “able to move quickly and easily.” The Agile Manifesto outlines 5 tenants that together allow software development to move quickly and easily. Now, “agile” is just another buzzword with a rough definition of “waterfall by another name.” Digital Transformation is another one of those terms. Digital Transformation is the process of reevaluating what is the actual value that we deliver to our end users and how can we reduce friction within our organization to produce that value more efficiently. Now, Digital Transformation is starting to become just another word for technology integration or digitization.

Who’s fault is it? I think it is all of our fault. Much like antibiotics were over prescribed to the point they are now less effective, so too were these words overused to the point they are now meaningless. Like antibiotic use is ultimately the fault of the doctor, the person putting jargon into presentations and speeches is responsible for jargon overdose. However, we can’t completely forget about the patient (executives/leaders) who ask specifically for that medication (i.e. jargon e.g. “disruptive innovation”) when it might not be appropriate. Sure, it doesn’t do noticeable damage on a case by case basis, but in aggregate it dilutes the meanings of these words to the point they cease to mean anything at all. At this point, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious holds more meaning than “synergies” and a real agile business is about as easy to find as a real unicorn. Are all of the KPIs key performance indicators or are some of them just data points? Are our software solutions really “bespoke” or are they more akin to tailored off-the-rack? Words have meanings until we abuse and dilute them. Be a responsible steward of the business terms we have left before they too become just another meaningless piece of jargon!

Best Regards,

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Len Musielak