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POPin Blog

Stop the Management Mumbo Jumbo

Every profession has its own vocabulary of insider jargon and buzzwords to express subtle technical meanings – such as among medical specialists or software engineers, or even baseball players. But all too often, business executives tend to parrot trendy mumbo jumbo phrases repeated at staff meetings or industry conferences. Beware of becoming too dependent on mumbo jumbo, because it can be addictive. Eventually, mumbo jumbo will creep into your daily language as a crutch for concise business communications, just as trite clichés will ruin your writing. Executives should try to prevent such empty words from infecting their business communications. In most cases, such lazy language tends to obscure one’s true meaning. When a speaker blurts out the latest mumbo jumbo, listeners can sense if the person doesn’t have anything substantial to say or add. Whenever possible, use simpler language to convey a clearer meaning. Jargon can be defined as “the verbal sleight of hand that makes the old hat seem newly fashionable; it gives an air of novelty and specious profundity to ideas that, if stated directly, would seem superficial, stale, frivolous, or false,” according to American poet David Lehman. Dictionary.com defines mumbo jumbo as a “meaningless incantation” or “senseless or pretentious language, usually designed to obscure an issue, confuse a listener, or the like.” In other words, the speaker who equates mumbo jumbo with grandiose eloquence often comes off sounding pompous and hollow. Speakers who rely on mumbo jumbo do so for one of two reasons, according to a LinkedIn post by Jinu Johnson, a Barclays vice president: “The first (objective) is to try to hide incompetence behind words and the other objective could be to confuse when you cannot convince.” Against this backdrop, here are some humorous definitions for popular mumbo jumbo business terms created by John Smurf for MBA Jargon Watch: at the end of the day (phrase): Based on the frequency with which they use the phrase, it would seem that members of senior management are required by law to begin every third sentence with “at the end of the day,” a phrase similar in meaning to “when all is said and done.” For instance, your favorite CEO might say, “At the end of the day, it’s our people that make the difference.” Insert platitude here. core competencies (n.): Simply put, it means “what the company does best.” When a company focuses on its core competencies, it gets back to basics. I recommend leveraging these. cycles (n.): A reference to computer processing cycles, this one can be used interchangeably with bandwidth. Either way, it’s a bad idea comparing yourself or another humanoid to an indefatigable machine. You’ll lose. eat(ing) your own dog food (v. phrase): When your company starts using its own products internally and suddenly realizes why the rest of the world hates them so much. leapfrog (v.): To surpass your competition, usually by engaging in one gigantic, hopelessly ambitious leap of faith that is almost sure to end in ruin and despair. Bring a parachute, golden or other. level set (v.): To get everyone on the same page, singing from the same choir sheet, etc. Why neither of these tired but well-understood perennials isn’t good enough is beyond me. I guess “level set” just has that I-am-slightly-smarter-than-you-all ring to it. leverage (v. tr): The grandpappy of nouns turned verbs, “leverage” is used indiscriminately to describe how a resource can be applied to a particular environment or situation. “We intend to leverage our investment in IT infrastructure across our business units to drive profits.” next steps (n.): “Next steps” are the tasks delegated to attendees at the close of a meeting. Next steps often result in “deliverables.” I believe “next steps” and “action items” are synonymous. Do humanity a favor and avoid both. offline (adv.): “Let’s discuss this offline.” Euphemism frequently uttered in long office meetings meaning: “Let’s discuss this later in private because you’re way off topic again, idiot.” operationalize (v.): A horribly polysyllabic way of saying “carry out” or (gasp) “do.” Oh, the humanity! peel the onion (v. phrase): To conduct a layer-by-layer analysis of a complex problem and in the process, reduce yourself to tears. pushback (n.): If you have a lot of sound, logical ideas, you’re bound to run into a lot of resistance in today’s surreal corporations. This resistance, often polite but always absurd, is euphemistically called “pushback.” Try not to take it personally: you’re dealing with the insane. 30,000 feet, at (phrase): A high-level view or explanation. Please keep in mind that oxygen is in short supply at this altitude, so you may experience lightheadedness.