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Want More Out of Your Next Business Conversation? Avoid These Buzzwords

Why companies with "best practices" that "drive synergies" could find themselves going in circles.
Director of Texas Venture Labs, Senior Lecturer, IC2 Fellow, University of Texas at Austin
June 26, 2017

Words say a lot about a person and a team.

As someone who has founded or financed more than 40 companies and now advises organizations around the world, I'm particularly good at assessing the substance of a management team based on a few early data points—and words provide me stealthy insight to a team's execution ability. Are they using hype-words instead of presenting real-world results? Are their stories buzzword-compliant, but the substantive results like customer traction or revenue are just plain missing? Or, in the best of all worlds, do they use straightforward phrases and let the results speak for themselves?

It goes back to what your parents always told you: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. When you listen carefully to what individuals and teams say, you can gain amazing insight to how they think. Are the words generic in use and superlative in nature? Signs of no substance. Are they using complicated words to describe simple concepts? They are playing out of their league. Does the conversation switch direction when you probe on claims? You're onto something that needs to be validated.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the empty business buzzwords that are likely to raise red flags among potential investors, partners and customers—and more importantly, how you can avoid them and better describe your business.

"Best practices"

Of course you have best practices. Problem is, everyone else says they have them too. So we’re in a conundrum: If everybody has them, nobody has them. Are you saying all your competition uses worst practices? The point is, any competitive business is going to say this, so it’s too generic to be meaningful.

What to say instead: Focus on what you and your team can do that nobody else can—what kind of unique knowledge or competitive advantage you bring to the table.

"Disruptive"

Beware the team and the company claiming this! And remember, real disruption is only clear in retrospect. I can't recall Steve Jobs ever using the word—and he went on to disrupt multiple industries.

What to say instead: Don't sing your own praises—let your results do the disrupting, then let someone else sing for you.

"Drive synergies"

This one sounds like the verbal equivalent of empty junk-food calories—hyperbolic, non-specific, lacking substance.

What to say instead: Know what sounds more filling? Revenue. Producing revenue does more to make the team look smart than any amount of synergy-driving could ever do. So focus on top-line revenue—and let that do your talking.

"Innovative"

If you're truly innovative, it should be so obvious, your product or service speaks for itself. Enough said.

What to say instead: Go back to your competitive advantage. To succeed in a market, you need to differentiate by either being the value-added or lowest-cost supplier—or an entirely new idea or concept. Focus on what really sets your company apart and the innovation will naturally follow.

"Paradigm shift"

Usually sandwiched between "disruptive" and "innovative." My buzzword meter goes nuts, as the credibility of the speaker further sinks. This word has connotations of parallel universes and warp-drives, so it’s probably best left in the realm of science fiction.

What to say instead: Discuss how the combination of your competitive advantage and your team’s execution skills cause customers to flock your way, while leaving competitors in the dust.

Now you can take these superlatives out of your business vernacular—and differentiate yourself with substance. After all, when it comes to your business and what you actually do, that’s what the people you’re dealing with are really looking for.

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Photo: Getty Images
Director of Texas Venture Labs, Senior Lecturer, IC2 Fellow, University of Texas at Austin