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Posted on 04.16.2015

Like Moths to the Flame: The Irresistible Pull of Business Jargon

What makes “new” biz so equally attractive and tiresome?

Despite being almost six feet tall, I’ve never been a big basketball fan.  Neither college nor pro hoops really do it for me.  Only my daughter’s second grade girls’ squad and the quadrennial USA Dream Team really get my attention. â€‹

Fortunately, the creative folks at Forbes Magazine came up with the geeky business communicators’ alternative to our nation’s love for springtime basketball championships and launched Jargon Madness a few years back.

While biz jargon infects virtually all industry spaces, it’s particularly prevalent among the startup set, where futuristic visioning and disruptive trendsetting takes place every morning over grande espressos and Red Bulls.

Jargon Madness focuses on the expressions in greatest overuse among entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, business developers and marketers, and invites anyone with a smart phone or computer to get in the game. Thirty-two tiresome expressions make it into the NCAA tournament-style bracket and fight it out for the title as the most hackneyed, most eye-roll-inducing, most irresistible cliché in business.

This year’s big winner?  Forbes says: Ideate - (v.) a nonsense word meaning “think,” “dream up” or “conceive of an idea.” Formerly known as brainstorm.

On its way through the Final Four, ideate beat out “pain point” and “deep dive.” Contenders in other brackets included “bandwidth,” “change agent,” “boot strap,” “evangelist” and “sweat equity.”

If you’re like me, you rolled your eyes (again and again) each time you read the list above.  But tell the truth: Have you used one or more of these tired chestnuts in the last month? The last week? The last day?

For me?  Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Hot business terms, like any trend, usually wrap relevance, value and ingenuity in a clever little nugget that we just can’t resist - like a bacon-wrapped canapé.  That first time we hear one we may think two things: 1) How clever! And 2) I’m going to use that sometime.

Every other lemming on the edge of the conference room table thinks the same thing, and before you know it, the paradigm has shifted, the needle has moved, and your clever new term is the “Uber of” business jargon.

The risk? Unless your delivery is the first or maybe second exposure, your customer/employee/investor/ analyst/spouse has had to the expression, it may distract them from your message – not to mention cost you a style point or two. It’s worth remembering that sometimes the most effective way to communicate is the simplest.  

Like slang, acronyms and other insider terms, best to keep jargon only for the most informal of settings, lest your audience’s attention “sunset” on your discussion too soon.

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