Corporate jargon. You know it when you hear it. Those seldom-challenged buzzwords that don’t really mean anything. Start-up managers and corporate executives alike have been known to pepper their speech with these important-sounding phrases. The result? Jargon overuse has transformed many a business presentation into an unintentional audience nap. It is the bane of Zoom meeting participants everywhere. To misquote a fellow Concordian, such bland corporate language is the hobgobblin of little minds.
Or, is it?
Let’s start with a definition and some examples. Jargon is language that is not well understood outside of a specific group, in this case a business. Do you know what is a “paradigm shift?” A “market ecosystem?” Is “lean thinking” a positive or negative trait? For that matter, what are “core competencies” and, are leveraged ones somehow better?” Are “corporate values” scalable? How does one find “low hanging fruit” and, for that matter, why are tomatoes considered a fruit?
(Ok, that last question wasn’t jargon, but it has puzzled me for some time.)
If you cannot express an idea without using these and many other buzzwords, there may be no idea there at all. So, why is corporate jargon so prevalent? It turns out that, for some celebrated business leaders, it can be a risk avoidance strategy.
Senior executives who stray from bland, corporate speak to express an opinion can put their careers at risk. Ill-considered or extemporaneous responses have lost many a CEO his or her job in recent years. Reflexive, late night tweets may offer momentary pleasure . . . at the expense of a lifetime’s work. For business leaders in the public spotlight, jargon can be a defense mechanism. Why risk censure by speaking freely when a heavy helping of corporate blather will suffice? After all, who can question your sincerity when you have “leveraged all corporate resources to implement a best practice approach to a problem?”
Gobblety gook, yes, but entrepreneurs would do well to adopt a variation of this approach. Keep your presentations and business interactions as free of jargon as possible and be cautious about your social media activity. Background checks and social media searches are not the exclusive realm of professional search firms and human resource departments. Angel and institutional investors use these same tools. Ever wonder why there was no call back after you “nailed” that initial investor presentation?
Now you know.
Peter has spent the past twenty-plus years as an acting/consulting CFO for a number of small businesses in a wide range of industries. Peter’s prior experience is that of a serial entrepreneur, managing various start-up and turnaround projects. He is a co-founder of Keurig.