The Real Purpose of Business Buzzwords

Last Updated Mar 23, 2010 4:31 PM EDT

Business is pretty simple at its core. There are, you know, these basic rules: Have a product or service the public wants to buy. Treat people the way you like to be treated. Spend less than you earn. Hire employees who are smarter than you. Keep your hands out of the cash register. Don't hit on the receptionist. Are there others? Probably not.

Sadly, a list of corporate action items waits for no man. Business has to keep moving if it wants to look sharp, and often that's accompanied by a fresh outbreak of buzzwords.

We've all seen it. Principle-centered leaders will go the extra mile, drilling down to the potential synergies between customer needs and brand touch points. While this strategy empowers a nimble few to ramp up, stay ahead of the curve and validate best practices within their networks, it also wrongsizes scalable mindshare ­due to the sheer volume of mission-critical heavy lifting. Not to mention the blocking and tackling. Correct me if I'm wrong -- but at the end of the day, it's like herding cats!

Did you have difficulty following that? Good. Now let's get back inside the box for a moment.

Here's the rub: Corporations and their shareholders have come to expect positive new developments -- often called results -- in order to measure financial growth. From nothing more than a casual glance at this formula, the deeper human condition becomes glaringly evident. Do you see where this is headed? Let's spell it out: Long-term survival depends on constantly changing partners and having as many successive conquests as possible -- as many of us have been attempting to rationalize for years. Believe me, it's a lot of hard work. And then we go some place nice for lunch.

So success in business is defined by growth and change. It's not that complicated, really, yet the contribution of each era quickly defaults to the jargon it creates, the verbal illusion that we're the ones who will finally cut the crap and revolutionize the economy. The old lexicon would serve admirably if, once in a while, someone had a new idea or two. If not, maybe bandaging old ideas with new words will suffice.

Imagine you just wrapped up that expensive Harvard MBA and wangled an interview with the marketing department at General Mills. You tell them...what, exactly? That if they hire you, Cheerios will continue to be a top consumer brand? No, that won't do it. You're going to need Advanced Terminology.

Try this: "As we initiate pushback on the paradigm shift and gain traction ­-- you know, actionable leverage -- by examining gap analysis data on the more seamless core competencies at our centers of excellence, it's possible to take this to the next level of penetration without having to circle back on predictable low-hanging fruit. In other words, we can bring value-add to the table and capture a win-win solution so long as we stay on the same page and keep everyone in the loop regarding margin factor learnings for deliverables. That's our takeaway, net-net."

Much better.

How will you demonstrate your value to the world of commerce? If you're up to the challenge, you'll be forced to innovate...painful as that sounds. And for those moments when creativity fails -- as it often does -- you can always bring along a change of idioms to cover your nakedness.

Image by Flickr user keasone, CC 2.0

  • Mark Jaffe

    As President of Wyatt & Jaffe, Mark Jaffe has been called one of the 'World's 100 Most Influential Headhunters' by BusinessWeek magazine. His firm, Wyatt & Jaffe, works with a select list of financial services, high-tech and consumer companies worldwide and has been called one of the 50 leading retained search firms in North America.