It has become a no-no to use words on your cover letter like “responsible”, “effective”, “driven” or “passionate” when describing your skills. Why? Because these words are a red flag on any résumé. They’re an indicator that the applicant is either at best pumping their own attributes or at worst mentally unstable.
But we use these words because the power of groupthink is strong. The year before last, we all found ourselves strangely using a term like “going forward” while slyly chastising a fellow employee. Where did it come from? And why did we use it? Eventually, people stopped talking this way because we all realized it’s stupid.
These words also get used out of a fear of appearing conventional. There’s a difference, though, between being kind of boring and drinking a gallon of whacko-bird evangelist Kool-Aid. Next thing you know, you’re sitting on an inflatable ball instead of a chair and talking like Jack Sparrow because your company enforces a mandatory “Talk Like A Pirate Day”.
Nothing wrong with having a little fun. The advent of start-up culture has brought a lot of good energy to the business world in general. And it’s also normalized some ridiculous habits and sloppy thinking that need to stop. With that in mind, it is perhaps time to retire some of the more overused and meaningless buzzwords that have crept into the language via start-up culture during the last couple years.
These are words that two years from now should only draw the response, “Wow, that is so 2013.
Agile – Yes, you are capable of turning on a dime. You can apply any solution to any problem. Your skill set is infinite. You own nothing more than you can pack into a single suitcase. The term you’re searching for is “versatile”. “Agile” implies that you’re a dangerous drifter.
Angel – Get over yourself. You’re an investor. (“Venture capitalist” works, too.)
Convert/Conversion – You made a sale! That would be the correct word for what you’ve done. Selling is not a dirty word or something to be ashamed of. When a customer’s online browsing habits suddenly result in a transaction, the term for what they’ve done shouldn’t sound as if you’ve just recruited them to be a sleeper agent in your underground terror network.
Culture/Ecosystem – Your office space is not a wetland. It’s an office. The people in it are there to earn money in exchange for their labour. Culture is a word that properly describes the store of human knowledge as well as various forms of art such as literature, music, theatre, painting, etc. An ecosystem describes something else entirely. Not your office.
Design Thinking – We all like good design. It’s pleasing to the eye and generally makes life more agreeable. But I have sat in conferences in which someone onstage has said with a straight face that design can save the world. At that moment, you can either think, “I’ll have what she’s having,” or you mentally locate the exit signs.
Disruptive – Enough already. Your product is not “the singularity”. Our lives will not be transformed.
Evangelist/Ninja/Wizard/Growth Hacker – Meaningless job titles for people too cool to say, “I’m a developer,” or “I’m in sales/marketing.” Get real. It’s embarrassing.
Eyeballs – People looking at your website is probably a good thing. Likewise if you’ve got lots of social media exposure. Saying that you can get a lot of “eyeballs” looking at someone’s brand, however, is not only meaningless, but also says something gruesome about how you value potential customers. Get back to us when you’ve figured out how to earn revenue. The “eyeballs” thing is creepy.
Exit – You sold the company. Good for you.
Failure – We know. We get it. You’ve failed in life. You don’t have to explain. That’s why you’re wearing a T-shirt with your company’s name on it rather than a McDonald’s hat and badge. No, it is not a badge of honour.
Freemium – Your product is not quite good enough to charge money for. On the other hand, you don’t want to just give it away. Make up your mind. There is no middle word you can use to solve this problem.
Gamification – One of the more misused terms out there. This implies that we can make life and everything in it like a game that people (consumers) “play”. It isn’t and they don’t. Life is not the Stanford Prison Experiment, okay? I only want to hear this again if you’re playing a game of chess using human pieces.
Incubator/Accelerator – There are some legitimate and great business development centres across the nation aimed at helping start-ups. That said, the word “incubator” is going to look as 2012 on your résumé in two years’ time as other already mindnumbingly awful words such as “wheelhouse” or “selfie” or “twittersphere”. There’s a creepiness factor to the word “incubator”, too. Ever seen “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”?
Iteration – Also known as a version of your product that is “unfinished” or “not quite ready”. (See also, “beta”).
Lean – Another word that means “working for no income”.
Pivot – Well, Plan “A” didn’t work. Let’s try Plan “B”. In fact, let’s just skip straight to Plan “C”.
Native Advertising – Formerly known as an advertorial. Now known as Buzzfeed.
SaaS (or any letter that can be stuck in front of the “aas” in “as a Service”) – This is really getting out of hand. You could just say “outsourcing”. But no, now we have to get used to using a ridiculous acronym. So we’ve got Network as a Service (NaaS) and Data as a Service (DaaS) and no joke, courtesy of Hewlett Packard, Everything as a Service (EaaS). I think I’ll PaaS.
The Cloud – Also known as “someone else’s server”. See “outsourcing”.
Thought Leader/Chief Happiness Officer/Influencer – Oh, look, the boss is wearing a jester hat. He’s less threatening that way.
Well, those are our wish words to get rid of going forward. Let’s all organize a whiteboard session where we can place this borderline meaningless and often creepy language in a word cloud and disrupt them forever.