Back before the Y2K switch, many of my fellow Xers sought to transcend the brick-and-mortar bottleneck by leveraging their core competencies and pushing the envelope in one particularly burgeoning field of virtual enterprise management: the fine art of buzzword creation.
You see, in mission critical tasks, you had to be capable not only of seeing the bigger picture, but of thinking outside the box and spotting the synergistic value-add in any given paradigm shift. In other words, what was important was not just brainstorming about scalable turnkey back office solutions with seamless interface, but actually getting in there to see where the bodies are buried.
Those who succeeded…became best of breed. It was a win-win, I tell ya.
Then, thankfully, the Nasdaq tanked,
What a glorious thing a recession can be.
Alas, it couldn’t last. The bulls are back, and they’ve brought a whole new lexicon of gibberish with them. So pull out your mission statements, as I present you with Buzzwords 3.0: Seven Cliches of Highly Gag-Inducing Consultants.
1. Disruptive Technology – This is the Bigfoot of buzzwords, in that it gets an awful lot of attention for something no one’s ever seen. In theory, a “disruptive” technology is a substandard but nonetheless affordable product or service that draws critical market share away from some competitor that, left to its own devices, would have presented the better option (for whom?) in the long run. Making this term particularly cringe-worthy are the long-discredited notions about “path dependence” used in association with it to justify rent-seeking, such as the pleas for ridiculously broad application of patent, or for monopoly privilege granted by way of regulatory fiat.
2. Google Play – As in “what’s the Google play on this?” Most commonly, it’s used to refer to a firm’s entire Internet marketing strategy, and not just the parts that deal with Google. Having already become a verb, Google is now fast becoming a proprietary eponym, as ubiquitous as Band-Aid, Kleenex, or Jell-O.
3. Infosnacking – This one could have been a ‘Sniglet. It describes employees’ brief bursts of dicking around on the Web and e-mail, just taking a sampling of slacker hors d’oueuvres, rather than gorging on a full banquet of uselessness. The ascendant H.R. theory is that some degree of infosnacking should be tolerated, as the ill will engendered by a crackdown tends to be more destructive than the mild productivity losses of just leaving them to eBay in peace here and there.
4. Unfair Advantage – The first time I heard this one, it struck me as akin to the straight white guy’s version of the “queer rights” movement, or black folk calling each other “niggaz” – inverting a derogatory term into a badge of pride. Yes, an ordinary advantage is apparently no longer sufficient, because God forbid anyone actually have to engage in honest-to-goodness competition. Today, investor relations directors all want to brag about their company’s “unfair” advantage. That is, unless Eliot Spitzer happens to be on the line.
5. Take(ing) Accountability -- ©Every contestant in the history of The Apprentice. In some ways, this is a descendent of the dot-com cliché “take(ing) ownership,” but really… it’s just an old-fashioned malaprop that, for whatever reason, has spread like wildfire. Just as it is physically impossible for anything to “center around” anything else -- a bastardized mash-up of “center on” and “revolve around” – you can either take responsibility, or you can be accountable. You can’t “take accountability” for anything.
6. Skin in the Game – Not a new phrase, technically, but I’ve been seeing and hearing it with mind-numbing frequency of late. It just means “to show a commitment by bearing risk.” When Warren Buffett first used it, oh, 30 years ago, it was clever. It was witty. Now, it’s just yet one more chalk dust torture.
7. Granularity – It takes a special kind of hubris to a) import an obscure term from the statistician’s lexicon and then to b)widely misapply it to mean something that c) can be easily described using the regular old English word “detailed.” But this is exactly the sort of hubris that buzzword originators possess in spades.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish up my next best-selling opus, Chicken Soup for the Chicken’s Soul: A Daybook of Comfort and Cannibalism.