Sunday, October 26, 2008

Jargon that must die -- and what must rise


Glass walls come in handy when you have multi-colored markers and a bone to pick with your office about their jargon abuse. That's why one wall of my professional den has *three columns* of words that if I never hear again in the philanthropy field (and the business world), it will be too soon. How many of these do you have to deal with?

Wisdom of the crowds.
Are they really that smart? Do we always need to care? How do we vet it? What's wrong with raising up experts who have devoted their lives to studying and researching a given idea, and maybe not giving the uninformed Joes total authority over our corporate decisions? Stop using this phrase to justify being a "company of the people" if you're really not.

Sector.
What a dry little word. I understand its utility in making you feel self-important, but it screams WONK! when overused. Besides, why say "in the philanthropic sector" and use 4 words, when you can say "in philanthropy" with 2 -- and be all the warmer for it?

Engage.
This is my biggest pet peeve in the nonprofit world. Let's be honest: What nonprofit in their right mind would EVER get up and say, "You know, I don't really want people on the ground to carry this work forward. I don't want them to feel they have the ability or the tools to make it happen. I'd rather leave them hanging and just do it all myself." It's an escape hatch when you don't know the specific actions you want to inspire in others through your program or organization.

Empower.
See "engage." You're killing me when you use this word, Smalls, because at this point, it's powerless. HOW will you empower the people? WHAT will you empower them to do? WHY are you even bothering to empower them? DEFINE empower. If you can't answer these questions, don't you dare touch this word.

Innovation.
True innovation is action. If you're not actually doing anything, you have no right to claim it. I know, this will come as a crushing blow to many of you. But simply stating you are innovative does not equal pixie dust that makes your product/process/company magically new and different. Better to sit and have a think for awhile, come up with those amazing new approaches, and then share the specifics with your audience.

To your point.
I am guilty of using this phrase. A lot. I wrote it on the wall myself in a marker version of the pillory. Every time I say it, I cringe, because I see the hypocrisy of it all: I'm merely wasting time in a meeting supporting a point we've already spent 45 minutes discussing, only to give the illusion of caring before I actually share a quite different, usually contradictory opinion. It's an insincere segue that takes you nowhere.

Resources.
Do you mean money? Say money. Do you mean time? Say time. Do you mean people staying late and pouring their blood, sweat, tears, and expletives into their keyboards, working their fingers to the bone for you and your project? Then say it. These are not dirty words that consign you to hell. They are the truth, and they will set everyone free. Well, except for the bleeding, sweating, crying, cursing minions at their desks.

Join the conversation. See also: Start the conversation.
Saying either of these phrases does not make you a social media expert. I'm sorry. The conversation is actually a bajillion chats and threads and comments and emails and Tweets and coffee meet-ups, and there's no way on God's green earth you're joining all of them. Chances are even slimmer you'll be able to take off with a new one. Best place to start: find the existing connections, add your two cents, listen to the bajillion other cents circulating as online currency, and then maybe just maybe revisit the smartness of adding another forum to the mix.

Leverage.
Marketers and PR flacks, I blame you for this one. Way to co-opt a financial term and (ab)use it to explain every strategic business communication, from getting a partner to getting more media coverage. Yes, we're all very proud of you for building on your previous hard work. But that's what we're ALL supposed to be doing. No action or decision exists in a vacuum. We get it. Stop saying it. And instead tell us what you're really up to, such as reaching out to XYZ blogger, contacting a different partner, creating a new program, etc.

I have to stop here because 1) that's enough for one sitting, and 2) my blood pressure is rising. I'd love it if you took if from here and added the biggies you catch yourself using.

And then in my next post, I'll outline how to avoid these terms and other jargon in your writing, be it for work, play, or emails to your mother. Because she doesn't like jargon either. I asked her.

Image courtesy of Zach Inglis via Flickr.

2 comments:

  1. Speaking of defining innovation in philanthropy (to your point, if you will), check out the new Kellogg Foundation paper on Innovation In Philanthropy: http://is.gd/4VsC. I haven't gotten through all of it yet, but perhaps they are working towards those concrete solutions.

    Thanks for the jargon rundown and keeping us all in line. VERY helpful for real engagement. :)

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  2. Anonymous9:39 PM

    How about a couple for us of the simple minds? I'druther see a sermon any time than hear one. It's by their fruit you shall know them. Brevity is a virtue.

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