20 business cliches that make you sound stupid
I went to lunch today with an old business school buddy. We always have a good time making fun of brainless ideas while trying to make a honest buck. Today, we ridiculed some of the following business cliches, which are beyond stale and should never be used; otherwise you’ll sound like everyone else and influence few:
- The next big thing. Newsflash: “the next big thing” doesn’t exist. The market determines “the next big thing,” and you don’t control the market (but you can influence it). Stick to what you know, do it well, and you may or may not become a millionaire, but you’ll almost certainly make some money.
- Google-killer. Fact: Google was founded on the idea of creating the best search engine — that is a search engine that returns the most relevant, non SEO’d results. They succeed, but it wasn’t until Eric Schmidt came around and embedded ads in said results when “Don’t be evil” Google became “Evil” Google. Provide a valuable product or service and the business model will follow. It doesn’t work the other way around.
- A win-win situation. A business transaction isn’t a zero sum game, unless you’re involved in gambling or scams like multi-level marketing companies. Consequently, a product, service, or deal is attractive to all parties involved or it’s not. It appeals to two or more parties or it doesn’t. That’s all. If you must, use “mutually beneficial” instead. Just know you don’t have to.
- At the end of the day. Not so long ago, this used to be called “bottom line,” which is more concise and business-oriented but still trite. Use “ultimately” instead.
- Think outside the box. This phrase is used by non-creative people in an attempt to classify their efforts as creative. For the most part, you’ll be much more successful thinking inside the box; improving something as opposed to reinventing the wheel or designing an unwanted square one. Use “creative” or “innovative” instead.
- Intuitive. This one has lost meaning over the last year due to overuse. Use “instinctive” or “natural” for greater clarity.
- Multitask. I hope I don’t have to tell anyone that multitasking is a lazy man’s way of making himself feel busy. Don’t multitask. Prioritize your deadlines and meet them one at a time.
- Drinking the Kool-Aid. First used by a radio DJ quoted in the Washington Post in 1987, “drinking the Kool-Aid” lays reference to a 1978 Jonestown, Guyana tragedy, in which a deranged creature of darkness lead hundreds of cult followers to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Not only is this phrase glaringly dated, it’s more grave in meaning than the way most businessmen casually use it.
- Six Sigma. This is a recent concept backed by American dinosaur companies hoping to improve efficiency and reduce bureaucracy. The only problem: Toyota, one of the most efficient manufactures in the world, doesn’t even know what the term means, while fading companies like General Motors, Merrill Lynch, and Motorola could school you on the notion. Go figure. Use “quality control” or “process improvement” instead.
- My plate is full. Are you in the business of selling widgets or eating hot dogs? As with no. 7, finish what’s “on your plate” before moving on. When necessary, and if you need to make yourself feel important, use “on deadline” or “hefty workload” instead. Otherwise just say “no” when asked for an unrealistic favor.
- Good to great. Let’s work on getting from nothing to good first, m’kay? A majority of companies are unproven, so the phrase doesn’t even apply.
- We plan to dominate the “space.” This is a fancy word for “industry.” Use that instead.
- Viral. Few things in business are viral. Stop kidding yourself by overusing the term. Use “popular” or “highly marketable” instead.
- Advertising is my business model. No, creating a highly sought after free product that can be fragmented by paid creative is your business model. No one wants your useless inventory if there isn’t a large audience alongside it.
- Core competency. Can “a punch to the face” be a core competency? That’s what I’m giving to the next person to use that corporate speak. Why not say “advantage” instead? I’ve gotten along fine without saying “core competency” since graduating in ’04. You can too. Promise.
- Cutting edge. If you want to sound like you just purchased “Technology for Dummies,” then use this expression. Otherwise, say “leading” or “the latest.”
- Beta (or worse: perpetual beta). There’s no shame in using the public to debug your product. But if you don’t have a launch timetable for your software or website, you’re not even trying. Consequently, your product will fail. My advice: Determine your hook (aka “value proposition,” for the long-winded in the room) and how you plan to make money before launching publicly.
- Community (in the abstract, business de facto sense). Starting online communities rarely makes money (lofty valuations, maybe, but not real dollars).On the other hand, selling valuable stuff to existing communities does make money. Still think “community” development is a good idea? Go plan a suburb or build cookie-cutter homes 30 minutes from society and see how far that takes you.
- Disruptive technology. Contrary to what the Harvard Business School would have you believe, there is no such thing as “disruptive technology.” In simpler times, this was known as “innovation.” Use that instead.
- Web 2.0, 3.0, or beyond. If you like having smart developers roll their eyes at you, keep using this marketing lameness. Otherwise, say “new website.” Or cyberspace. Or the information superhighway. Or the internets. In fact, never say web “point” anything. It’s just the web now.
Smart sounding words won’t make you a success in business. Clear communication will. If you do what you love passionately (or happen upon the right thing at the right time), “the next big thing” will find you, even if it’s not a “Google-killer.” I speak from experience.
(Originally published Dec 30, 2008.)
About the author: Blake makes a comfortable living as a writer/consultant. He has never been a millionaire, so don’t take his advice if you’re aiming to be a millionaire.