TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT NEW. Matt’s Old Man Rant about the ways of the modern world: The art of buzz-speak


How do I love thee, buzz words? Let me count the ways!

As the world around us becomes more homogenised every day, so too is the endless stream of buzz-speak used by corporate folk becoming more standardised, more repetitive and more tedious. The more often we hear it, the more diluted it becomes and the less impact it has. To paraphrase the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dearest buzz-speak, how do I love thee? Let me counts the ways.

No, really – I’m going to count the ways!

To start with, let’s be brutally honest: it’s only so many times we can hear someone extolling the virtues of becoming engaged in the journey of discovery in the product space to ensure alignment with corporate values, brand and strategy without laughing. Or falling asleep. Sometimes they rattle off whole sentences, entire paragraphs of words that more-or-less, at the end of the day, essentially say nothing. And as the listener, as a member of their intended audience, by the time we’ve identified, linked and followed all the hidden meanings, analogies and clichés that make up the lion’s share of each statement, we have about as much idea of what they’re talking about as Christopher Columbus had of when his boat would topple off the edge of the horizon. Which is probably no great loss in the end since they usually never say very much anyway; and even if you asked a clarifying question, they’d probably only respond using the same language so you’d still be none the wiser.

Some words, as engaged by corporate folk, have actually morphed into different words over time, to the point where the original word becomes all-but forgotten. A prime example of this is the word ‘about’: exactly when did it become around? We’ve taken away some learnings around the governance space and synergies will be achieved if we think outside the box and exploit the low-hanging fruit. Really? I’d sure like to take away some learnings around what the words you just said actually mean! I’m convinced that most corporate folk don’t know how to use the word ‘about’ any more. Why can’t we go straight to the heart of it and talk about the topic at hand, rather than skirting the matter by going around it? Doesn’t make much sense to me. Surely it’s far more efficient to just show the crux of the issue and get on with it? Maybe we should take this offline?

And speaking of efficient, it seems everyone’s trying to grow efficiencies these days. At a high level, from a forecast perspective, we need to grow efficiencies in the resource space aligned to shrinkage projections. …no, I’m not quite getting that one… so you need to increase the number of staff that you don’t have? Is that it? Or you need to decrease the number of staff you will need over time? Or you’re trying to… nup, sorry, you’ve totally lost me. Even the meaning of the most basic statement can be completely lost in translation from buzz-speak back to plain-speak. With all this efficiency-growing and fruit-picking, you’d think we were working in some kind of market garden. I don’t know about you, but for me the organic concept of growing has no connection whatsoever with the business-centric concept of efficiency and the term low-hanging fruit only conjures images of me wandering through the Garden of Eden wearing nowt but a leaf over my nether-regions, lazily reaching for whatever exotic, brightly coloured fruit is within my reach.

Have you noticed how we don’t receive emails anymore either – our inboxes are apparently populated by communications. Marketing will send a communication to the analyst community and business stakeholders around leveraging the learnings and insights taken from key market segment data. So what you really mean is that someone’s gonna send an email to a bunch of people to talk about how to make the most out of what you found out about your customers, right?

And, apparently, communications don’t go to ‘staff’ anymore either – they go to the analyst community, the management community, or the project community. WTF? Irrespective of how much I like the people I work with or that some of them are my actual friends, I most certainly do not go to work to belong to a community – the dictionary definition of which, incidentally, is “A group of people living together in one place, esp. one practicing common ownership: “a community of nuns”; All the people living in a particular area or place: “local communities”. Right… so nuns and local communities. Well aside from anything else, I don’t actually live at work! I know I’ve done some long hours in my time and people have provided tenths of seconds of amusement by asking me “have you actually been home yet?” when arriving at work in the morning, but I never actually lived there. So that’s cleared up then – we don’t live there, so we’re not a community. Enough said.

Or is it? Coz the flip side of this argument is that, despite the fact that corporate folk would have us believe we all ‘live’ in a office-bound community, people within those communities have increasingly had their status as living, breathing human beings removed. Yes, maybe the time has long-since passed since we were last considered little more than numbers on our employer’s payroll – that just wouldn’t do in the age of political correctness. But people still aren’t people any more. They’re rarely even ’employees’ or ‘staff’, terms that were once both in wide use to describe a collective of people who work somewhere. These days, animate being-status of people who work in the corporate world tends to be further reduced by use of inanimate descriptors, like resources and stakeholders.

Every office-dweller loves a good PowerPoint presentation. You can always tell that someone – generally not the presenter – has put a huge amount of time into them when they’re chock-a-block full of tables and animation. But when did we start talking to a slide. As if to cement the sad and sorry end of the word ‘about’, for some reason corporate folk now talk to slides, rather than ‘about’ them. The next slide covers resource requirements in the training space and our Head Trainer will talk to that. Ummm… excuse me, I’m your audience and I’m sitting right here. Shouldn’t the Head Trainer talk to me about the slide? …or is it around the slide?? At any rate, it’s a commonly avoided fact that most corporate folk actually detest doing PowerPoint presentations with a passion. They generally do so on pain of death and they’re typically too under-prepared or under-informed to do anything but talk to the slide – literally – such is their inability to ad-lib its content.

There are so many others that I could mention – too many, in fact – but the discussion wouldn’t be complete without at least tipping my hat to these:

Insights. Suggestions, recommendations or outcomes of analysing or investigating something.

Time-poor. A term typically over-used by anyone who’s bigging themselves up, busy for non-critical reasons, disorganised, irresponsible, bad at their job, scatty, ditzy or otherwise generally inefficient.

High-level. A term that allows corporate folk who don’t actually know a lot about stuff to get away with not knowing a lot about stuff by presenting statements and summaries that are pitched from a high-level viewpoint. Also referred to as the 60,000ft view by those most accomplished in the art of buzz-speak.

Transparent. A word used to describe what a company should do or say or promise to achieve when, in fact, what it really does, says or actually achieves is either the opposite or completely different.

Blue-sky thinking. A non-committal way for corporate folk to speak of how the company might achieve the heretofore unachieved goals and outcomes that were revealed while being transparent.

…we could go on and on and, although it could be endlessly fun, we’d only arrive at the same conclusion: that buzz-speak is just a load of old corporate bollocks. It doesn’t mean much, nor say much and is generally spoken by those who don’t mean much by what they say and who don’t really have much to say anyway – certainly nothing of any real value to the people they’re saying it to. Buzz-speak is all about saying a lot to say very little. It creates confusion, sends mixed messages and generally wastes the time of both those saying it and anyone unfortunate enough to hear it.

It’s just lucky that it’s also enormously entertaining!