5 Worst Business Clichés Ever

January 21st, 2010

One of the worst jobs I ever had was translating a business proposal from Korean into English.  Why? Because it was so laden with business jargon that I had no idea what the document was saying.  And the words they were using were DIRECTLY borrowed from English.  And when I asked the writer what he was talking about, he honestly didn’t seem to know.

This experience made me realize that many people use business clichés and jargon to simply mask the fact that they don’t know what they’re talking about.  And it’s a good way to shift blame on the listener (hey, it’s not my fault he can’t comprehend the paradigm shift I am proposing).

Well, as someone who deals with international businesspeople, I know how futile these clichés are.  And what’s worse is that some of these are taken as gospel and can led to some VERY bad decisions.

So, I offer you what I think are the worst offenders: the 5 worst business clichés:

1. Think outside the box

The fact that this became a cliché should tell you how bad it is.  What I hate most about this cliché is rarely does anyone say it to themselves. No.  They say it to others.

A friend of mine was once trying to show their boss how they needed to change their course of action because they were losing a lot of money.  The boss says, you need to think outside the box.

Well, two months later, the boss was probably living in a box as the business went bankrupt.

Possible replacement: Just come up with SOMETHING I haven’t heard already

2. Win/win

There is no such thing.  All negotiations are zero sum games.  I think most businesspeople say this so that they don’t feel bad about getting the better deal.  You never hear people who got the worse end of the deal talking about win/win.

The guy with the most leverage dictates the terms.

The key is always to be honest with yourself.  Talking about win/win is not only dishonest, it defies reality.

Possible replacement: Let’s strive for win/don’t completely rip-off the other guy

3. Failure is not an option

I LOVE this one.  Actually, failure is an option.  It’s always an option.  Sometimes failure is the best option!  Cut your losses.  Get out while you’re ahead.

This is a phrase that I think is used for motivating and pumping people up.  Life is a series of successes and failures.  Getting all pumped up while you’re getting creamed only makes you crash harder.

Possible replacement: Failure is an option as long as you know why you failed.

4. Grow or die

It’s perfectly acceptable to be small.  There are many successful one-person operations all over the place.  No need to grow.  Growing can sometimes lead to death.

I am only happy that “small is the new big” isn’t being thrown around too.  Or is it?

Possible replacement: Grow only when it’s in your interest to grow

5. Paradigm shift

When I was in college, we learned this word.  It refers to BIG things. Strictly defined it changes the basic underlying assumptions we once had.  For example, people once believed that life could come from dead things (abiogenesis) till Pasteur finally proved that life only comes from life.  It fundamentally changed the approach to biology.

Here are some other examples of REAL paradigm shifts:

  • The shift from Ptolemic cosmology to Copernican. (the Earth revolves around the sun, you know?)
  • The transition from Newtonian physics to Einstein’s relativity
  • The development of Quantum mechanics
  • The Theory of evolution by natural selection

So, you think a software program even comes close to these?

Seriously.  This word is reserved for big moments and only history can judge whether it was a paradigm shift.  Using this in business-speak renders the term meaningless.

Possible replacement: NOTHING!  Stop using it!

Well, those are mine.  Feel free to add some in the comment section.

Honorable mention

Anything 2.0, as in Don’t Step in the Poop 2.0.

Replacement: upgrade.


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