In my first proper job after university, I was working for a small London advertising agency. Achingly hip, it was a massive open plan converted industrial building on the Clerkenwell Road, full of bright, assertive young things eager to make their mark on the world (including a sullen and scary fashion victim receptionist called Chloe).
During my first week, I was handed a list of people I had to phone and persuade to attend a client launch event. Nervously, I dialed the first number, got put through the named person on the list and started the conversation. Then, (and I’m embarrassed to admit this now), the phrase, “let me give you the heads up…” came out of my mouth.
Within seconds, five people around me stood up, made a loud ‘claxen horn’ sound, pointed at me and shouted ‘W**K WORD.’ Then my name was written up on the Whiteboard ‘W**k Word List of Shame’. A cheer went around the room like a Mexican Wave. I was mortified, but not really sure what I had done wrong.
"I became more conscious of the meaningless stupid business jargon that strangles clear communication like Japanese Knotweed in an ornamental garden."
After that humilating experience, I became more conscious of the meaningless stupid business jargon that strangles clear communication like Japanese Knotweed in an ornamental garden.
People sit around board room tables in meetings using stupid David Brent-esq phrases like, “let’s run that one up the flagpole and see if it flies”. “Let’s pop that in the ideas fridge and snack on it later” (ok that’s a particularly stupid one - I was in a meeting in the US years ago when someone said it).
So here’s a rundown of some of the worst and most cringey examples I’ve heard.
- Let’s shoot the puppy - meaning dare to think the unthinkable. I swear I was once in a marketing meeting at Lotus Software (let’s name names), where someone said: “Let’s shoot the puppy, people.” And everyone shouted “hurrah!”
- Joined-up thinking - I’ve heard this one a lot. Whenever someone says it, everyone else in the room nods in agreement as though the person who said has just revealed the secrets of the universe. It’s just a big and clever way of saying that a problem has been solved intelligently by considering all the facts.
- Synergy - people with common interests working together. Business to business websites are littered with this word. Usually in sentences that are totally unintelligible.
- Best practice - I think this as to be one of worst and most pompous phrases the consulting world ever came up with. I might be smiling or nodding seriously when someone says it, but inside I’m rolling my eyes and sniggering.
- Ideas Shower - apparently it’s non-pc to say brainstorm, but FFS, Ideas Shower? I’m sticking with brainstorm ‘cos I like it.
- Leverage - I know what it means in a dictionary sense, but whenever I hear a business person use it in sentence, I never have the slightest idea what they’re droning on about.
- Let’s put a record on and see who dances - I don’t think this one requires comments - do you?
- Let’s take this one offline - Why can’t we just say “let’s talk about this after the meeting.”
- Thinking outside the box - Why is it that the people who say this are the least likely people to ever do any creative thinking?
- It is what it is - Yeah, thanks for that.
- Robust - as in, robust processes. If you ask me, this adjective should only be used to describe red wine.
- Giving 110% - as used by the 'selling machine' contestants on The Apprentice.
So there you have it. Stick that up your 'Strategic staircase', 'square the circle' and take a 'helicopter view' of your business language.
I continue to pursue my one woman quest to rid the world of 'one stop shop solution providers who use robust, strategic processes to deliver world-class ROI.'
What are your favourite (or worst) examples of business jargon? Do share!!