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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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            The Gentle Art of Saying No

            The Gentle Art of Saying No

            No!

            It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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            But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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            What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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            But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

            1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
            2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
            3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
            4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
            5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
            6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
            7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
            8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
            9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
            10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

            Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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