Buzzwords say all the wrong things 25 Sep 2006
77 comments Latest by One Monkey's Uncle
Our industry is addicted to bullshit buzzwords. Emails are full of “I’m an insider” jargon, blog posts brim with tech duckspeak, and resumes are loaded with meaningless action verbs. Everyone’s always implementing or enabling or optimizing or leveraging. There are endless value streams, efficiencies, solutions, infrastructures, and enterprises.
These buzzwords are often a mask. People who use them are covering up their ideas — or the lack thereof. They are overcompensating. They don’t have anything substantial to say so they try to use impressive sounding words instead.
But people who abuse buzzwords don’t sound smart. They sound like they are trying to sound smart. Big difference.
People who really get it aren’t impressed by this sort of jargon. They smell BS. They can read between the lines and see what’s really there: fear. Fear of clarity. Fear there isn’t actually anything worthwhile to convey.
Cut to the chase
Really want to impress someone with your words? Then either 1) be direct/clear or 2) shut up. Anyone worth impressing will respect you for saying less a lot more than they’ll respect you for using big words that don’t actually say anything.
Tech folks often use terms that imply we’re part of some secret club. It’s as if we’re saying, “We can speak in a code that those other people can’t understand.” It’s a way to build a wall that separates us from them. It’s a form of exclusion.
You don’t need to build walls or exclude people when you’re confident in your message though. When you’re confident in your message, you want everyone to understand.
When you really have a point, you want to say it sharp so it can penetrate deep.
The power of simple statements
Great communicators recognize the power of simple statements. They realize that important ideas don’t have to be dressed up in fancy language.
For example, Edward Tufte does a wonderful job of communicating complex concepts in a simple way. Even though he’s a Yale professor, he avoids relying on highbrow academic terms. Some examples of Tufte’s plainspoken style:
“Lurking behind chartjunk is contempt for both information and audience.”…”Simple design, intense content.”…”The idea of trying to create things that last — forever knowledge — has guided my work for a long time now.”…”If you look after truth and goodness, beauty looks after herself.”…”If your words aren’t truthful, the finest optically letter-spaced typography won’t help. And if your images aren’t on point, making them dance in color in three dimensions won’t help.”
Simple language, intense meaning. Tufte realizes that clear and obvious thinking needs to be evident in words just as much as it does in charts or graphs.
Another example: Albert Einstein. Einstein’s scientific writing may be tough for the layman to understand. But it’s interesting to note how he could tone down his ideas for mass consumption too. He often used simple words that both physicists and regular people could understand:
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”…”Imagination is more important than knowledge.”…”Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.”
Simple language spreads quicker
Simple statements are more likely to be understood. They’re more likely to spread. Gandhi realized this and spoke in words that everyone could grasp. Some examples:
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”…”The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”…”What do I think of Western civilisation? I think it would be a very good idea.”
MLK often relied on language everyone could understand too:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”…”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”…”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
OK, you’re probably not trying to change the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the techniques of people who managed to do just that.
Big ideas via little words
Too many techies resort to “implementing enterprise synergies in order to create an immersive experience that will help execute in a nascent market to blah blah blah.” If simple language was good enough for Ghandi and Einstein, it should work just fine for explaining your web app, job experience, or firm’s process.