I will fully admit that having covered business innovation for a number of years, I have fallen into the trap of overusing buzzwords considerably more than I should have. From synergy, through to incubators and accelerators, the reality is that many of these words are meaningless and do little to actually push forward business innovation for a large section of society.
Even the word innovation is itself a buzzword. In 2013, Wired published a story titled ‘Innovation: The Most Important and Overused Word in America’. It’s an argument that is difficult to see a way around. If you ask the majority of people to tell you what innovation is, you are likely to get a couple of answers discussing other buzzwords, but the majority will be confused looks. It is not even just in business that this takes place, with the craze even impacting scientific papers. The University of Utrecht found that the frequency of words like ‘innovative’ ‘novel’ and ‘amazing’ increased 9 fold between 1974 and 2014. This use seems even stranger given that when looking at a larger cross-section of literature, this trend is not present.
However, using buzzwords more infrequently is about more than not sounding like a 1980’s waspy businessperson, when people use these kind of meaningless and exclusionary buzzwords, it stops others outside the circle from putting forward their ideas, creating a system where only those ‘in the know’ have the capacity to contribute. For instance, it may save you 1 second by saying ‘synergy’ over ‘working together’ but the reality is that asking most people to come up with the best way to create synergy between teams just creates resentment at being asked.
Having had our collective heads banged aginst the wall for years about how innovative ideas need to come from throughout the organization, is it really pertinent to alienate half the people in a company by using words that most people either don’t understand or disagree with their use?
Having spent years covering innovation and having thousands of discussions with high-level innovation executives, I am still unclear exactly what ‘growth hacking’ actually means. If you have somebody who spends their time being the best salesperson, accountant, or customer service representative they can be, is it realistic that they will want to engage in some kind of growth hack when they have no idea what it even means?
We need to be inclusive in order to make innovation work, it may make us sounds important and knowledgeable to use buzzwords associated with innovation, but the reality is simply that it has the effect of disengaging people from the process. So cut out the synergies and start working together, or ultimately your innovation processes and overall company health will suffer.