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Buzzwords Are Disposable, Human Beings Are Not

Buzzwords Are Disposable, Human Beings Are Not

European Honey Bee Touching Down by autan.

    Photo by autan

    Every month, there are new business books on the market promising “secrets & insights” into “exciting change” which is happening… right now! They often use curiosity-baiting phrases like “Learn how [BUZZWORD] is transforming the way we communicate” or “Use the power of [ANOTHER BUZZWORD] to engage your customers”.

    Buzzwords include but aren’t limited to “Web 2.0”, “virtual worlds”, and just about anything with “social” and “media” in them — “social media”, “social networks”, and “rich media” are fair game. If you’re smiling after reading that sentence, then you already know how true this is.

    Buzzwords used badly

    Just like delicious food is gladly eaten and digested before being excreted, buzzwords get used up. They even get turned into silly games, like Buzzword Bingo. The importance of realizing this is: absolutely avoiding buzzwords is foolish and impractical. It limits your ability to relate to others, since many people, including some of your colleagues, do jump buzzword bandwagons. You can’t escape buzzwords if you want to make progress in a modern work environment. A better approach: control the words, use them meaningfully, and don’t insert them as vapid filler.

    “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” –Philip K. Dick, awesome sci-fi author

    Buzzwords repackage classic notions in new forms

    Ever since our ancestors hunted in the wilderness instead of making a trip to the supermarket, we’ve been telling stories. Whether scribbled on papyrus or streamed via YouTube, we also love to share those stories — and the same stories keep being retold with contemporary twists. Why? First, because the core principles work well and have stood the test of time (otherwise those stories wouldn’t continue to be popular). Second, while you may have heard your fair share of stories, there are plenty of people who haven’t, and marketers and others reach out to them, hoping to fill their mindshare (buzzword!) before competitors can. Which is why even though you may be annoyed by the 100th airing of an ad, there are going to be many people who’ve never seen/heard it before.

    Seth Godin Rides A Unicorn by zoomar.

      Photo by zoomar

      Seth Godin (pictured as action figure above) is a master of stating the obvious when it’s welcome, with unparalleled clarity and simplicity. This is why he’s so popular; try as you might to rearrange what he’s saying, it always comes back to the core principles, which he presents better than 99% of everyone out there. I’m a fan of his teachings, and it’s no surprise he makes a big deal about storytelling in All Marketers Are Liars:

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      Everyone is a liar. We tell ourselves stories because we’re superstitious. Stories are shortcuts we use because we’re too overwhelmed by data to discover all the details. The stories we tell ourselves are lies that make it far easier to live in a very complicated world.”

      Just as humans learn from their mistakes, adapt to improve, and pass lessons onto the next generation, part of what we’re continuing to spread are stories, an easy way of transmitting ideas. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to describe these shareable thoughts, but I bet he never foresaw it being used to spawn cumulative successions of lolcats and “Chocolate Rain” parodies, pillars of user-generated, community-created content (OMG buzzword!).

      So why do buzzwords keep bursting to the front?

      Since stories facilitate transmitting ideas, they serve as a memory aid. A popular mnemonic technique for remembering foreign words is to make up a story. For example, take the French word for grapefruit, “pamplemousse“. Now, visualize this in your mind’s eye: a moose with a grapefruit-sized pimple. Vividly picture the moose wailing out in pain and charging towards the doctor’s office (or whatever it is adolescent moose do when they have bad acne). Did that help you remember it? I think so! And while it wasn’t À la recherche du temps perdu, it was nevertheless a little story.

      Memory plays into the big picture here, because buzzwords are often tethered to the zeitgeist — what’s happening now. As human beings, we have emotions. We also forget things, which messes with our emotions, and makes us see ex-relationships as being more attractive, while selectively forgetting why we broke up in the first place. And in repeating an experience multiple times, we become desensitized to them — do you remember the first time you ever surfed the World Wide Web compared to how you feel about it now? I confess I don’t gawk in amazement daily like my initial stretch of weeks trying out NCSA Mosaic and waiting minutes for animated GIFs to download on my 14.4k modem — and boy, that Virtual Louvre was really something! But if I lock myself in a quiet room and really, really think of my first time on the Web intensely, I can almost feel waves, echoes of those initial moments.

      The same is true for many human experiences. Buzzwords in context often reference our past and graft it with a new lingual sheen — look closely at the Holden Efijy concept car: eye-catching with its plum coat…


        Photo by Ian Muttoo

        … and inspired by the original Holden FJ.

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          Photo by Liam Ryan

          Long story short, like cars paying homage to retro designs, buzzwords attract because they mix novelty with familiarity. Buzzwords help us to cope with “accelerating change” (arguably a buzzword!) by blending the old with the new, making the past not just more perceptually exciting, but marketable as well. Otherwise, we’d be in passive danger of (1) being bored and not caring or (2) being wayyyy too excitable and not well-grounded.

          Humans don’t change, humankind does

          Some things about us are fundamentally the same and will be for a long time, unless we reach the Singularity sooner than expected. For effective purposes, we can consider our core principles as “permanent”, as far back as we can recall.

          We love to be loved. When we find delight, we often share it with others. We’re anxious and insecure (and have a hard time expressing this) and express dislike of fellow humans more often than we should. In exchange, we try to celebrate our “unity” as a species, or what we think it should be — like the Olympic Games. Even as the media morphs throughout time and we find new ways of crafting stories, ideas — buzzwords being a specific variant — continue to be sprouted. We will, sadly, often fight about the words framing those ideas from each of our limited worldviews, instead of joining forces to advance what is infact the same idea seen in different ways.

          I liken it to observers seated in a circle around a magnificent sculpture which looks different at every viewpoint. No one person sees the whole sculpture, merely a fraction of angles. You an either choose to dispute that your view is the best and (incorrectly) represents the whole sculpture. Or, you can draw your part, encourage others to do the same, and everyone contributes to the whole vision. What will you choose?

          You gotta see through the crap

          A notable, buzzword-laden book is Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. It’s intriguing how books with similar titles like Clear Blogging: How People Blogging Are Changing the World and How You Can Join Them and Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies have appeared, reinforcing what I said about the same idea seen in different ways. (And scroll back to the first paragraph if you’re still laughing.)

          I believe the ideas within are smart ones to spread. But those titles are perfect examples of how to gussy up “the same old” in a new dress.

          When we lived in caves, we literally often had “naked & clear conversations”. Sheer survival was prized above diplomatic wording and textural embellishment (“political correctness” and “spin” to some). Today’s story has different priorities but the same core principles: “blog” is a contraction of “weblog”, which in turn is a glorified way to say “I have a diary/journal on the Internet”. Which makes me think of teenage girls writing “dear diary”, except it’s an open book. If they’re earnest about it, then that makes it naked, clear — or transparent (buzzword!).

          With that understood, the big idea here (imagine me growling this like a Neanderthal) is:

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          HUMANS BE HUMAN BEINGS! NO CRAP!

          And the contemporary twist:

          HUMANS USE MACHINES TO BE MORE HUMAN!

          Not surprising, but people need to be reminded. It’s something you’ll hear over and over, and which you may’ve heard related to in a fairy tale called “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

          Buzzwords used badly (Vol. II)

          Like those non-existent clothes on the pretentious Emperor, don’t be fooled by what’s not actually there: words themselves are a liquid currency subject to much semantic argument, and a simple principle I recommend is to “sanity-check” yourself that there’s actually substance behind what you’re saying or being told, and that you aren’t deep in mental feces (wish it was a buzzword but I’m ‘fraid it won’t catch on) like the Emperor was.

          Buzzwords used emptily are wasteful slop to chop: if mention of a word isn’t going to get you ahead, don’t use it. Instead of technobabble and abstract vaguery, pick a more understandable word. Respect Hemingway.

          “Web 2.0” is one of the worst offenders, because 1000s of people have their own conflicting definitions of what it is, and then butt heads when using it, because they never agreed to begin with. Of amusing note at the top of that wikiality (another buzzword!) is:

          ALERT: Web 1.0 is inheritently (sic) different from Web 2.0! Why does this redirect?

          Maybe it’s because they’re more similar than some would have us believe. Distinguishable, like bands of color on a rainbow, yet contiguous. :)

          Somewhere over the rainbow by you.

            Photo by Torley (me) showing virtual world (

            buzzword!Second Life

            Another horrendous-yet-hilarious example of word wars are the arguments concerning 100s of electronic music styles, which you can hear in Ishkur’s guide (I’m still waiting for him to release version 3). If you’ve ever been in “the scene” as I have, it’s both embarrassing and shameful to hear two technosnobs get into a verbal brawl over whether a piece of music is “trance”, “progressive house”, or “minimal melodic techno”. I often say, “If it’s a wonderful track, then it’s all of those… and even maybe more.” That counterintuitively tends to confound, and immediately identifies limited, not-seeing-the-whole-rainbow thinking in others.

            My simple, ongoing approach to buzzwords calls for dynamic balance: allow words to lead you to new places. Remember, buzzwords are disposable: some have great longevity, but the majority are going to fade. “Horseless carriage” was a buzzword back in its time, and see how far we’ve come with our cars like that Efijy?

            Lastly, never forget: the “buzz” in “buzzword” comes from bees. Bees fly from flower to flower, pollinating and spreading what they carry as they go on. They don’t stay still, and neither should you.

            Buzz on!

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            Last Updated on March 14, 2019

            7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

            7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

            Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

            For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

            Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

            1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

            A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

            It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

            It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

            How it helps you:

            If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

            Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

            2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

            Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

            Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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            How it helps you:

            Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

            Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

            If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

            Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

            3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

            Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

            Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

            How it helps you:

            This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

            For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

            Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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            A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

            4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

            To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

            A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

            How it helps you:

            One word: hierarchy.

            All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

            In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

            If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

            5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

            Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

            Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

            How it helps you:

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            Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

            If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

            This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

            6. What do you like about working here?

            This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

            Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

            How it helps you:

            You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

            Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

            Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

            7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

            What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

            As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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            How it helps you:

            What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

            First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

            Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

            Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

            Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

            Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

            Making Your Interview Work for You

            Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

            Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

            More Resources About Job Interviews

            Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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