Most people realize that your brain controls the words you use. A clear, precise thinker tends to communicate using clear, precise words. By contrast, a fuzzy-minded, confused person tends to communicate using imprecise and confusing words.

What most people don't realize is that the words you hear also tell your brain how to think.

It's called "neuroplasticity." Your brain is constantly recreating itself and rewiring its neural connections, in reaction to what's happening around you, including the words you habitually hear (and use).

Your brain uses words to identify, categorize and prioritize your thoughts and emotions, thereby giving them context, and arranging them into meaningful narratives.

For example, a study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience scanned people's brains while they repeated positive affirmations. The research showed that:

"Participants who were affirmed (compared with unaffirmed participants) showed increased activity in key regions of the brain's self-processing (medial prefrontal cortex + posterior cingulate cortex) and valuation (ventral striatum + ventral medial prefrontal cortex) systems."

In other words, hearing and using positive words changes your thought patterns and ultimately your behavior.

Another example of neuroplasticity can be seen in society at large, where a large percentage of people consume a daily verbal diet of conspiracy theories, false reasoning and "alternative facts."

Listening to such material regularly (and repeating it to others) creates neural pathways and habits of thought that makes it difficult and sometimes impossible such people to think logically and clearly. They become immune to facts, which is a form of stupidity.

The same is true in the business world when people use a lot of corporate-speak.

As anyone who's been in business for any amount time knows, the number of business buzzwords in a presentation or document is inversely proportional to the intelligence of its creator. (Dilbert's pointy-haired boss is an archetypal example.)

But here's the problem: because of neuroplasticity, the more you're exposed to corporate-speak, the more it begins to influence how you think. Put another way, in the real world, Dilbert would eventually absorb the vocabulary and thought processes of his boss.

I have definitely seen this happen.

For example, I've met otherwise intelligent people, after working with management consultant, are convinced that infinitely-malleable concepts like "disruptive innovation," "business ecosystem," and "collaborative culture" have objective value.

Such terminology, of course, is vague to the point of meaninglessness. Unfortunately, once people are exposed to this stuff on a daily basis their brains apparently lose their innate ability (common among teenager) to immediately identify obvious bullsh*t.

Here's another example. As I've explained previously, executives who consistently use militaristic analogies (like "business is warfare") make lousy business partners and brittle negotiators because they must always "win."

If you're in an organization where this type of military tough-talk is endemic, your brain will eventual start seeing every problem as an us-versus-them challenge. The corporate-speak slowly closes your mind to alternative approaches. It has literally made you stupid.

The opposite is also true, BTW. Working in a company where new ideas are expressed with verve and precision sharpens your thinking. That's why smart people like startups where corporate-speak is shunned. The experience literally makes them smarter.

So, at this point you may be asking: what if I'm in an organization that's heavy on the corporate-speak? Is working here making me stupid?

Well, yeah.

So if you're in that situation and thinking of starting your own company sometime in the future, you might want to take the leap before your brain turns to corporate mush.

I'm not kidding.

Startups founded by people who've worked decades in a big firm are doomed to failure. I've known firms, usually self-funded, where the ex-corporate founder can spout fluent biz-blab but can't articulate what a customer might want. Such firms never last long.

Published on: May 2, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.