What These 10 Office Buzzwords Mean, So You Don’t Have To Use Them

Every agile industry has its own brand of language, filled with disruptive words and phrases that help incentivise thought leaders and creative ninjas (already fluent in design-thinking), to leverage all the innovative strategies that come from bi-weekly ideation sessions.

Before we play “spot the buzzword” in that awful sentence above, let’s just say that everyone is guilty of using office jargon. When you’re deep in an industry, it can be easy to shove simple words aside in favour of frustratingly vague or unnecessarily pretentious ones. But when it comes down to it, you don’t really want to be that person. So let’s break it down.

#1 Agile

A staple of Malcolm Turnbull’s vernacular, “agile” basically describes an approach to dealing with innovation (we’ll get to this one). For example, an agile business is one that can rapidly respond and adapt to market and environmental changes – without losing vision or spending bucketloads of money. Technically, the word refers to a set of software development strategies, but like all sneaky buzzwords, has found its way into the wider business world.

#2 Ideation

This inexplicable word refers to the process of coming up with ideas – a process that used to be called “coming up with ideas”. Obviously, that wasn’t fancy enough. So be warned – if you’re ever invited to an ‘ideation session’ at work, just politely bite your tongue and prepare yourself for some good old-fashioned brainstorming.

#3 Disruptive

The concept of “disruptive innovation” was actually coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in the mid ’90s. Essentially, it refers to dominant service providers becoming dethroned by smaller competitors who offer simpler, cheaper solutions. As you can imagine, a slick word like “disruptive” slid nicely into the tech startup culture, and has now gone full mainstream. Connoisseurs will debate the finer details of its definition, but if you hear it around the office, it will likely be in reference to something surprising or innovative (sorry) – like a new product, business model, or way of thinking.

#4 Ninja/rockstar/wizard

Ever come across a digital ninja? A publishing rockstar? An accounts wizard? Chances are you will at some point. In some industries it might work to glamourise your job title a little, but often words like “ninja” just come off as gimmicky. Best to stick with something normal and professional – like “expert”, “specialist”, or wait for it… “professional”.

#5 Thought leadership

The idea of a “thought leader” is a strange one – can someone actually “lead thoughts”? Anyway, it used to mean something back in the day. Now, instead of being reserved for a select few people in an industry specialised enough to offer influential opinions, it’s used more as a marketing tactic. For example, you might hear this sentence in an ideation session – “We should definitely write a blog about how innovative this new product is – it will demonstrate great thought leadership to our audience”. Basically, it’s industry-speak for having an opinion.

#6 Synergy

While this one rolls of the tongue like a dream, its overuse has become nightmarish. Which is a shame, because Cambridge dictionary’s definition is kind of inspiring – “the combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately.” Goosebumps. Unfortunately, now this beautiful word is often used to describe any form of mild collaboration.

#7 Leverage

Around the office, people tend to think “leverage” is a swankier way to say “use”. For example, “let’s leverage the power of social media to generate more leads.” Sure, it kind of makes sense, but “leverage” also has scientific and financial definitions that complicate the matter even further. Say it around the office and you’ll probably get away with it – no questions asked. But if you can use a simpler word, it’s probably better to just use a simpler word.

#8 Innovation

Innovation is the buzziest of all buzzwords. Ask any politician, big business, university, or country of the world for that matter, and they’ll all say that the future depends on it. That it’s the key to success. And they’re not wrong. But due to its severe overuse, it has become too hazy a concept to confidently use around the office. Don’t worry, we’ve all said it. In fact, it comes in handy when you need a filler word to substitute your complete lack of understanding about a subject. But just be wary: the more you use it, the more you’ll stick out.

#9 Design thinking

Or what’s commonly referred to as “problem solving”, or even “creative thinking”. If you have a job in the modern world, it’s probably something you do without thinking. The use of design thinking isn’t a new, or even bad thing (like most buzzwords for that matter). In fact, the idea of employing a more creative method to solve business and social problems makes absolute sense. However, people tend to get super philosophical about it, which only serves to feed its buzzwordiness (and misuse). So unless you can legitimately use “design thinking” to justify your strategy, best to steer clear.

#10 Incentivise

This one is actually quite hard to say. Say it five times really fast. Or don’t – use the word “motivate” instead.

Doug Whyte is a freelance writer and copywriter. He’s worked in branding agencies, digital publishing and written a bunch of articles for a bunch of publications.