It's the perfect New Year's resolution: Stop using business jargon. We all do it, despite the fact that it confuses people, makes the speaker sound uncreative, and gives employees a fantastic motivation to play buzzword bingo during meetings.
If going cold turkey is too hard, try just banning the very worst business buzzwords from your vocabulary and replacing them with actual English instead. Here are my picks for the worst jargon of the year.
Please. Any kindergartner knows that if money is changing hands, then you're not sharing. So why do we allow the use of the term "sharing economy" to describe the act of paying money for the temporary use of a product or service? This is not sharing. It is renting. True, "rental economy" does not sound altruistic or futuristic, but then again, "sharing economy" probably doesn't sound terribly glossy to your average Uber driver right about now.
This is the most egregious of the many unpleasant variations of "hack," which itself is so overused as to mean basically nothing. Has no one ever heard of a tip, a trick, a shortcut, or even just a bit of advice? In the 1890s, naturalist Alexander von Humbolt, knowing that the muscles of animals had been made to contract via an electric current, put wires into his own open wounds in an attempt to do the same. I would accept the term "biohack" in that single case, simply because nothing else seems to adequately describe this wackiness. Subbing almonds for doughnuts as your afternoon snack just doesn't compare.
It's no fault of Aileen Lee, the venture capitalist who coined the term "unicorn," that the word has become so irritating. Lee was referring to unicorns as private companies valued at $1 billion--creatures, or in this case deals, that are mythically rare. In 2013, when Lee was writing, she said that about four unicorns per year had emerged over the past decade. But now we've got 153 companies that fit the definition of "unicorn," and the signs are mounting that at least some of them are not going to be the successes their backers have been hoping for. Given that there were only 45 billion-dollar exits in the 10 years ending in 2013, we're likely looking at a whole bunch of narwhals.
I don't even know what this word means anymore, and we must use it a dozen times in the course of a half-hour news meeting here at Inc.com. Editors have been exhorted to "curate" for at least six or seven years now, but unless someone on staff has a really interesting side gig that I don't know about, none of us work in museums. The silliness is spreading: A colleague of mine pointed out that the New York City Ballet recently had an installation on its promenade, with signs asking patrons to "Curate the Conversation." I'm sure they would, if only they could figure out what that is supposed to mean.
The use of "authentic" as jargon makes me sad, because authentic is a great word and there's no easy substitute for it. "Authentic" gets at a deep truth, while "genuine," or "credible" seems to denote the mere absence of fraud. Unfortunately, "authentic" has been destroyed by marketers and execs trying to tap into the craze for all things artisanal without actually having to produce anything by hand or even source locally. Now, "authentic" has become the word you use to claim a particular heritage when, actually, you don't have any.
Rock stars get up on stage and make music in front of thousands of people. That probably does not describe your top sales person or the developer who just saved the day. So let's not call them rock stars unless you're OK with them regularly trashing hotel rooms and coming into work hung over and stoned.
Unfortunately, the next time you hear someone use the word "ecosystem," the speaker will probably not be talking about global warming or even last weekend's nature hike. Instead, the topic will likely be a network of suppliers and competitors who work together or against each other to deliver a product or service. There are two problems with this. First, the word "ecosystem" is already plenty busy, thank you very much. Second, using "ecosystem" in this particular business context implies that there's some sort of natural order in how these players interact, with each participant playing a pre-ordained role. Business just doesn't work that way--if it did, there'd be no need for startups.