Every industry uses jargon, i.e., words, and expressions foreign to those not in the group. That’s the point of their usage: jargon lets people know who’s in the group and who’s not. However, like many things that sound smart, jargon has the opposite effect. As the Harvard Business Review article, Does Your Office Have a Jargon Problem? puts it:
[Business jagron] can sound meaningless and be called bullshit… We’ve also found that jargon use can hurt impressions of a speaker; audiences often view these speakers as conniving, manipulative, or less likable.
It’s also been stated that it can be ineffective and harmful to your business. So why do some people use excessive jargon? Research suggests it’s because people are insecure and desire status in their profession.
The following is a short description of overused business jargon, but an actual list could fill a small dictionary.
The king of overused business jargon is Disrupt. Its more common usage means to interrupt something by causing a problem. Today, businesses can’t get enough of using disrupt to mean causing a radical change in a market or industry. Its new-ish meaning can be traced back to author/academic Clayton M. Christensen, who frequently used variations on disrupt to discuss innovation. Although, as Merriam Webster points out, disrupt was being used in a narrow sense and is now used to describe any sort of radical change in a market. Its overuse has been noted and many think pieces have bemoaned its usage as little more than an overwrought cliché.
Leverage to non-business insiders typically means power/effectiveness or to use something you have to gain an advantage. As the Financial Times’ Guffipedia puts it, business insiders use it to say “make the most of.” It’s so overused for its latter definition that it’s often at the top of the list for overused business jargon. Forbes even included it in its list of The Most Annoying, Pretentious And Useless Business Jargon back in 2012. Fortunately, other sites that note its overuse also provide alternatives.
Ideate, or to form an idea of/the formulation of ideas, was voted one of the worst business jargon words of all time. It also has a kissing cousin in ideation, meaning to come up with ideas, which is almost equally reviled. Its connotations to the phrase “suicidal ideation” don’t do it any favors either. You wouldn’t want to drive a car that was voted worst of the year, so don’t use a word that won the same thing.
Some honorable mentions: pivot, scaleable, action plan, paradigm shift, innovate/innovative, rockstar, onboarding, growth hack, company culture, and architect.
Companies that want to differentiate themselves don’t rely on stock phrases and stale business vocabulary. There is a blatant irony to saying you want to be different and then doing what everyone else is doing. Or, as they would say, it’s not very… innovative?