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OWNER'S MANUAL

13 Buzzwords to Stop Using

The first few times you say these phrases, you might sound 'in the know.' But the road to pretentiousness--and silliness--is a short one.

Trendy terms and phrases can make you sound pretty smart... until they don't. Once everyone starts to use them they turn into buzzwords.

Then they lose their initial meaning and impact. Then you just sound pretentious.

Or--which has definitely been true in my case--you sound silly.

Here we go:

1. "At the intersection of..."

This one probably started as an elevator speech way to describe the relationship between two different things.

But now we have "at the intersection of fantasy football and life" (if you're dwelling on it maybe you should just get a life), "at the intersection of culture and mental health" (where you should always yield to an oncoming Honey Boo Boo), and "at the intersection of vision, graphics, learning, and sensing" (proving a two-way intersection is hardly sufficient for Microsoft.)

Just say "combination." Or "blend."

Leave affectations to the hipsters.

2. "Hipsters"

You're right. There is no such thing. We're all just people.

3. "Going forward"

Is there really another option? Not until someone invents one of these machines.

(By the way, don't comment that I look like Sherman. I'm aware.)

4. "Exit strategy"

Very few companies are acquired by another company. Even fewer raise venture capital. Very, very few reach the IPO stage.

Talking about your exit strategy when you start a company is putting the success cart miles ahead of its horse.

Instead, talk about landing customers. Talk about generating revenue and profits. Talk about building a real, sustainable business--and build one.

Then you might need to start thinking about exit strategies. But by then you might not want an exit strategy because you'll be having too much fun.

5. "Big data"

Big data is data that exceeds the process capacity of conventional database systems and architecture. Some companies have the capability and skill to make sense of big data.

Most of us can't. Even if we just have little data it's probably still too much for us to understand in a useful way. Realistically, the best we can do is work hard to gain real insights from some portion of our data.

So talk about big data all you want--especially at parties--but never refer to your own data as "big."

And never forget that big or small, data is only useful when you can use it to make better decisions.

6. "Organic growth"

Unless you're this guy you're probably growing organically. You don't have the resources to grow through mergers or acquisitions.

For you and me, growth is just growth.

You should be proud you're growing. That's awesome. There's no need to dress it up with "organic."

7. "Directionally accurate"

This one is another way of saying, "I can't really back this up--but I still know I'm right."

If you don't know, feel strongly. Have a hunch. Take a guess. Don't pretend analysis is on your side when it isn't.

By the way: People with research or stats backgrounds hate phrases like "directionally accurate."

8. "Full disclosure"

Occasionally, disclosures are not only necessary but also legally required.

That's the exception and not the rule, though. Otherwise prefacing a remark with "full disclosure" or placing the term in a parenthetical statement has more to do with pretension than transparency. Rarely does what we disclose really matter--to anyone.

I should know: I've unnecessarily disclosed fully. More than once.

(But I promise I won't any more.)

9. "Eat your own dog food"

One: It should go without saying that you believe enough in your own products or services to use them internally. Proudly stating, "We eat our own dog food," is like proudly stating, "We treat our employees with respect." As Chris Rock says (in a very politically incorrect way), you should never take credit for something you are supposed to do.

Two: It sounds kinda gross.

10. "Meta"

Not meta tags or meta names. Meta as in consciously self-referential, as in, "I was just tweeting to people who were tweeting about the merits of tweeting." "Dude, you are so meta."

(Sorry. That's the best I can do for an example. I'm not at all hip. Or meta.)

11. "Best of breed"

Who awards this title? Self-proclaimed is usually self-delusional; there is no Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for companies or products. Don't say you're great. Prove you're great.

12. "Co-opetition"

You either compete or you don't. You either cooperate or you don't. Co-opetition tries to create a middle ground that can't be middle since it's almost impossible for more than one to occupy.

Show me two companies who claim to be co-opeting and I'll show you a relationship between two companies that will eventually turn out like this. (Awesome scene, by the way.)

13. "By the way"

Yep. Let's retire that one too. At least I should.

"Awesome scene" would have been sufficient.

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Last updated: Nov 5, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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