Josh Kaufman

Bestselling Author, Business & Self-Education

A Holistic Mission to Organically Downsize Buzzwords

Can we all please align on leveraging lean language? Proactively downsizing our words will save a ton of bandwidth and empower us all to achieve innovative breakthroughs, synergize our missions, and scale our impact.

[Edit: the previous paragraph is 100% irony. This paragraph didn’t appear in the first version of this post, and I received a lot of questions wondering whether or not I was being serious. Buzzword abuse is so pervasive many intelligent professionals can’t recognize over-the-top humor from actual usage.]

Buzzwords are fashionable words and phrases that make simple ideas sound more complicated or impressive. Here are a few top offenders:

  • Innovation (“improvement")
  • Paradigm Shift (“improvement")
  • Revolutionary (“improvement")
  • Breakthrough (“improvement")
  • Transformational (“improvement")
  • Next Generation (“improvement")
  • Passion (“interest")
  • Social Media (“attention/marketing")
  • Synergy (“work well together")
  • Iconic (“recognizable/remarkable")
  • Transparent (“straightforward")
  • Empower (“action")
  • Proactive (“action")
  • Brand (“reputation")
  • Scale (“increase")
  • Grow (“increase")
  • Leverage (“use")
  • Utilize (“use")
  • Align (“agree")
  • Agile (“efficient")
  • Lean (“efficient")
  • Impact (“effect")
  • Organic (“natural")
  • Ballpark (“estimate")
  • Bandwidth (“capacity")
  • Enterprise (“large business")
  • Holistic (“complete")
  • Inclusive (“complete")
  • Mission (“goal")
  • Vision (“goal")
  • Value Add (“valuable")
  • Downsize (“fire employees")
  • Runway (“time until we run out of money")
  • Best Practices (“method that works")
  • Going Forward (“in the future")

When people talk about “learning the language of business," they often mean figuring out how to wade through verbal clutter in search of words that actually mean something. It’s a waste of time for everyone.

I’ve noticed myself becoming less and less tolerant of buzzwords. Say what you mean, make it clear, and don’t try to make something sound more impressive than it is.

Removing Verbal Clutter

Here’s an approach I find useful in removing buzzwords when I write and speak: whenever you’re tempted to use a word that sounds like a buzzword, taboo that word and try to explain what you mean in another way. Simple words are always best.

Here’s another useful rule of thumb: whenever someone consistently uses big important-sounding words for simple ideas, it’s safe to assume they don’t know what they’re talking about, and they’re trying to conceal that fact.

The faster business buzzword usage becomes a social signal for “I don’t know what I’m talking about," the better.

Published: October 1, 2012 Last updated: October 1, 2012

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