Buzz Cutting Buzzwords

Last week, a friend of mine suggested I comment on the word “disrupt.” She noted a biographical résumé entry of someone in her industry that described him as “A leading thinker on driving innovation via personal disruption.” My friend is an Emmy-winning television producer, director, and on-camera host, so she’s not a thin-skinned whiner whose sensibilities are easily ruffled.

She has reason to be stirred up, however, about “disrupt.” It and “pivot” and “change agent” and “six sigma” and “democratize” and “mission critical” and – heaven forefend – “productizing” are some of today’s buzzwords that rankle, that make us want to knock some common sense into their advocates.

Back before Tony Soprano was whacked to the strains of Don’t Stop Believin’, we thought the term “low hanging fruit” was “cutting edge.” That we could “monetize” the World Wide Web simply by “thinking outside the box.” That “positioning” a “brand” would generate enough “eyeballs” to get it out of its “beta” phase. That investing “sweat equity” into a project would result in “more bang for the buck.”

But jargon is generally an insider’s club. If you don’t know what “gamification,”1 “DRI,”2 or “marketing puke”3 means, you’re viewed as being in the wrong meeting/company/career. If you can’t keep up with the (mostly male) Silicon Valley “brogrammers” who have “diasporaized”4  their jargon to the corporate culture at large, then you’re categorized as a bag-phone-and-dial-up-Internet loser.

Greg Baumann, the Editor in Chief of Silicon Valley Business Journal, wrote last December “Disrupt [is a] great, active verb that has been spavined5 through overuse and made foul. Let’s drive it to extinction. The next time you use it, send an invoice to AOL, or TechCrunch … because you’re doing their conference marketing for them.”

Jargon does have its place. It can clarify and condense a concept. But the “helicopter view” of the “cubicle farm” is that workers need to think creatively and stop falling back on supervisor-generated clichés and lazy exposition if they hope to “get their ducks in a row” in order to “push the envelope.”

And when crafting your résumé, corporate biography, or just posting your profile on OkCupid, try to refrain from being that guy who’s so full of himself that he thinks he can “personally disrupt” anything other than his finely-honed image as a boor.

Now that would be a “win-win.”

1. Game design used in non-game situations to encourage users to adopt them or influence how they are used.

2. Directly Responsible Individual

3. Someone (usually in marketing) who doesn’t understand a product or a service and instead uses buzzwords and catch phrases to cover up.

4. A word I made up. From “diaspora”: The movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established homeland.

5. Bauman is most likely using “spavined” to mean “made lame” since the word actually refers to the swelling of a horse’s hock-joint which results in lameness.

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