As a professional communicator and nearly obsessive people observer, one thing I often find myself doing at events is listening in on conversations between individuals and groups of people. Some may call this eavesdropping; I like to think of it as homework.
While it may seem totally creepy, the rationale is simple: Through these types of observations, I gain knowledge and insights about the evolution of language, culture, business, and inadvertently modern-day communication.
More specifically, I hear the jargon that emerges as we attempt to codify language within certain industries.
Bryan E. Jones, VP of marketing North America and the Dell, makes the point that jargon is typically used for two reasons: “It’s either a shorthanded way to speak to colleagues or others in your industry (which is fine); or it’s a shield that says, ‘What I do is hard and complex and I want you to stay on your side of the line.'”
Anthony Ray, aka Sir Mix-A-Lot, puts it a little more bluntly: “People think it makes them sound smarter.” He adds: “It’s not just the tech industry that’s guilty of this. It happens in every industry under the sun.”
As a longtime entrepreneur (Appboy) and investor (T5 Capital), Mark Ghermezian has seen his fair share of jargon: “I understand why it exists, and there are definitely some environments where pulling out your ‘industry speak’ will work; but it’s all about context and knowing your audience.”
In terms of the technology and business landscape, and in order to decode and rethink some of the most overused and overrated terms, I asked Jones, Ray, and Ghermezian to give me their take.
Here are their thoughts on some of the most pervasive catch phrases, what they really mean, and suggestions on what we should we be saying instead.
1. “Social selling.”
This something I’ve been hearing rumblings of for the past year. “Social selling as opposed to unsocial selling is pretty ridiculous if you think about it,” says Jones. “As if we would ever say to a customer: ‘Hi, I don’t want to get to know you or your business, but I would like you to buy things from me. Is that OK?'”
Let’s stick to simply “selling” coupled with a genuine interest in our respective buyers, shall we?
2. “Disruption” and “paradigm.”
These two are like the startup world’s Bobbsey Twins: completely different, each with their own adventures, but often finding themselves together at last. Notes Ray candidly: “It goes a little something like this: Company X will completely disrupt the industry and totally shift the current paradigm.”
What to say instead?
“How about just telling us how you’re ‘different,’ and what real-world problem you are trying to solve,” says Ray. “Using jargon is often a cover up for fluff and truly smart folks will see straight through it.”
3. “Data-driven insights.”
“In my opinion, there’s no reason to track data that’s not going to benefit the customer relationship,” remarks Jones. “We have a tendency to want to track every detail, but it’s our responsibility to take a step back and question the utility of it all.”
In other words, we could think of this as “information that will enable us to make better decisions around the customer.” While “data-driven insights” sounds super smart, it doesn’t mean anything short of context and application.