Jargon Sucks. Ditch it.

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- 4 min read

Jargon sucks. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. But in business, it’s almost like there is a competition to come up with the most vague, complicated and fancy words. It's not uncommon for disrupting game changers to co-create roadmaps by leveraging low-hanging fruit to implement state-of-the-art agile prototypes. Get it?

We spend quite a lot of time reading management books, speaking at conferences and visiting workplaces around the globe. One big challenge? Cutting through the crap.

Business bullshit

Many people feel the urge to make things complex and to use obscure jargon. I get it. They want to sound more intelligent, impress their audience, or justify their daily rates. Or - and I'm sure this is also true - it's a way to disguise insecurity and/or a lack of understanding. If you don't really know what you're talking about, it's tempting to default to jargon in the hope that people won't call you on it.

We see this commonly at conferences. People repeat what others are saying. They use buzzwords to sound intelligent, without really understanding what they're talking about. Those in the audience are scared to ask because they don't want to look dumb. The result? A self-perpetuating system of ever-increasing business bullshit.

Besides the fact that readers of business books, or attendees at conferences waste time on vague nonsensical business jargon also leads to severe miscommunication. I'll share a funny example.

A few years ago, we were invited to run a session at a company on 'a journey to become teal'. This wasn't a color painting exercise, but a reference to a type of organization discussed in Frederic Laloux's powerful book Reinventing Organizations. In the middle of the session we noticed that even though this company had been on their "teal journey" for some time, not everyone understood what that meant. When we asked how many people knew what the leaders of the company actually meant by this, over 95% of the room admitted they didn’t have a damn clue. Six months of "transformation" effort wasted because of crappy jargon.

The point of no return

Another downside of management jargon - or any other kind - is that it excludes people. Newcomers and outsiders feel left out because they don't 'speak the language'. It's a kind of status symbol. If you belong to certain ranks you have access to it. After a job promotion you go to business school, pay a pile of money, get an MBA and fill your dictionary with management mumbo jumbo. As of then, non-management staff are excluded from the conversation: they have no clue what that fancy management speak is all about.

Sure, we fall into the trap as well. The more we read and hear all that speak, the more we are seduced to repeat it. Whenever we do, please call us out. We hate it. We believe in properly studying complicated concepts and then explaining them in ways that people can really understand.

We try to keep everything we do, write, and talk about simple and understandable. Why? Because we want a wide audience to be inspired to make work more fun. To do that, we need to speak in plain language.

And you need to, too.

Bullshit bingo

First of all, it's more fun to speak in a way that everybody understands. Plus, concrete sentences are perceived to be truer than abstract ones, says a study from the New York University. Also, avoiding abstract speak helps you to be perceived as trustworthy. (And from personal experience, fewer people fall asleep when you use plain language.)

More than enough reasons to ditch jargon. So, next time you go into a 'stand-up status update meeting', join a 'digital transformation conference', or embark on a "special forces mission" in your company, bring the "2020 management bullshit bingo" card with you:

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Cross the word when you hear it. When you've crossed all the boxes, shout "BULLSHIT" and run away as fast as you can. You can spend your time more wisely.

I'm curious about your examples of the most cringe-worthy business jargon. Drop them in the comments below.

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