Why you Need to Avoid the Buzzword Jargon BS
Updated: Oct 27
How can we align on a strategy or initiative when a single term such as Digital Transformation, Collaboration or Innovation can mean as many different things to as many different people?
I love words — the specificity of one word over another to describe the intended nuance with perfection — that delights me. I love to learn that Quantum Computing is coming but, right now it’s frying our brains trying to figure it out. However, I did not choose the path of academia and so loving these things is ok when it’s just me, but, there is no room for them in my daily interactions with other people.
As a management consultant specialising in technology, my job is to understand the client’s goals and figure out how to get them there. It’s that simple and that difficult.
Jive Talk and all that Jazz
Rubbing up alongside the latest buzz word can make one feel a little smug. In the company of jargon, one can feel at the edge of the newest thing; as if we are ahead of everyone else and in a special club.
New words and terms tempt us — our brains love them.
Initially, our brains have difficulty interpreting the jumble of letters of a new word. We learn new words by seeing the words. More specifically, we learn new words by seeing the meaning of the word.
To help yourself and others effectively conceive ‘jargon terms’ focus on the specifics rather than using words like collaboration. For example, talk about working together to create new HR policies for a newly merged organisation. The latter is evident, it has a defined, measurable outcome, and it puts a picture in our heads.
Technology vs Business
The daily shifts in technology are variously exciting and daunting. New terms and a new language grows with equal speed around the technology changes. It is no wonder that in this environment miscommunication between marketers and suppliers is common.
Tamhane references Gain Theory’s extensive research into communication breakdowns of C-suite decision-makers.
The research revealed that many business leaders find the language used across the data, analytics and technology industries to be too complicated and very often confusing. To borrow a phrase, a spade is not often a spade. Not every decision maker will share the same level of ‘equation literacy’ — after all, they are likely to be multi-skilled, dealing with streams of information, yet the expectation is that they can base decision making on a language they are not fluent in, and that updates itself constantly.
Arriving at and, communicating simple, elegant solutions to complex problems is hard. Faced with this problem, vendors talk in solutions rather than business objectives. In doing so, vendors become their own worst enemy and present solutions using dense, jargon-filled. Business leaders cannot make decisions with ease when faced with overly technical language rather than easy to understand business terms.
Finding the Shared Meaning
Clients, enticed by the promise and hype of technology and consume the surrounding jargon. Petersen talks about ‘digital transformation’ becoming short-hand for so many different perspectives.
Some (clients) believe that it’s simply a matter of using digital channels to sell and service clients more effectively, more efficiently and in a more personalised manner. A significant number think it is about a new application or digital marketing initiative. Many regard it as a matter of using technology to drive business process innovation. And others say that their goal is nothing less than to be the Uber of insurance or the Airbnb of banking. Digital transformation has come to mean all of these things and more.
Jargon terms such as ‘innovation,’ ‘collaboration,’ ‘digital transformation’ or ‘digital disruption’ are abstract terms that individuals, organisations and industries hide behind.
Technology is an enabler — it’s not the end game. We use technology to help us gain business benefit. Similarly, innovation, collaboration et al. are not the point. Businesses don’t carry out ‘digital transformation’ for the sake of it. They do it to gain insights into customer behaviour that will enable them to retain the customer in some way or; to increase efficiencies and drive down costs
Gathering around the jargon terms takes the focus away from the real, tangible, specific and measurable business outcomes.
Jargon becomes a catch-all, general thing that people can hide behind. Get out in front of tech talk and speak in terms of business objectives.
The call to action for vendors is around speaking the customer’s language. Avoid selling and talking technical solutions and explain things in the customer’s terms. While this may at first seem difficult, it will improve with practice and will create a more comfortable and straightforward path to purchase for the customer.
We need to stop thinking that jargon is sexy. Solving real business problems and addressing the needs of the workforce and the customer — that’s sexy!