Tim Mousseau explains on why we’ve come to rely so heavily on buzzwords to encapsulate everything.
We sat on a date, the first one but since this one wasn’t blind and we had some previous interactions, we knew a little about each other’s stories. We were still doing the normal tango that takes place on such avenues of human courtship. The discovery of pieces of the self, an exploration of who are you versus who am I and although we very rarely announce it in public, the constant internal judging of whether or not the you versus me dance will lead to any further tangoing.
She was smart. Clever, reflected by her eyes and the manner that they betrayed the hidden questions lurking behind her smile. She was thinking, actually thinking, about what I was saying. A refreshing respite from the many times we just engage other humans half-heartedly. It was from this place of thought and due to her ability to discern bullshit, picking through the fabric of my stories, that she offered challenge. I welcomed it because it was what had attracted me to her smile in the first place; a subtle identification that nothing was too serious and an inevitable desire to challenge the perimeters of whatever narrative the subject across from her was weaving. She was a reporter after all, it was her job.
My job is that of a public speaker, motivational if we want to get cheesy although, personally diminishes what my perception of my work is. Make jokes about me living in a van down by the river, everyone does. I explained this to her, the nuances of my role. The things I talk about, the vague topics I work to incorporate, the concepts of creativity and passion, innovation and curiosity I address with audiences on a weekly basis.
It is a pretty swell job, albeit never perfect. She knew this. She said this.
“It sounds like you talk about a lot of buzzwords, very vague terms that don’t always have much meaning. You only have an hour with these people. How do you really train them on these topics?”
The questions were dripping in a sincere desire to understand my work, she had sat through corporate pitch meetings where buzzwords were rotated worse then the soup de jour depending on your crowd. Curious, she was. I teach on curiosity so I’m never flustered when one approaches me with intrigue.
I explained to her what I explain any time I get asked these questions. The exact reason I train on the areas I do and why I am willing to address these types of buzzwords. Because yes, even I know I am spinning narratives filled with the buzziest of subjects.
Our society has progressed to the point that I define us as “The Buzzword Generation.” This generation, well it is not just my age range but indeed more so anyone who lives in the time of the Internet, anyone who is graced by life in this period of functioning and humanity. We are The Buzzword Generation because of a unique luxury that we do not realize. The over abundance of voices in our world. The overextended amount of ideas and content and original, or somewhat less than original, thought that exists within our current arena of the human experience.
Now more than ever in society we stand in a place where almost everyone has a voice. The problem this creates is that the public space for discourse has become like an overcrowded pool. Too many people crammed in one tiny swimming area. So many voices intact that when someone might be drowning, it is easy to miss the voices we should listen to the most because everyone else is filling the air with rancorous din. We have reached a point where every idea, whether valuable or not, has room to take precedence and sometimes the manner through which we discern what has worth seems so skewed and backwards that it is blindly easy for us to lose sight of the voices that deserve our attention.
Thus, we have become a buzzword generation. Any one in our world can spout off a list of one word traits and characteristics which make them a compelling human. If you had ever read the resumes, or dating profiles of not only post graduates but anyone that is seeking employment, love or acceptance, you see this. Ask someone to describe themselves and what you will get is a vague amorphous blob of thought. Words with two to three syllables. It’s not just people. It’s companies, it’s organizations, it’s causes. A cacophony of adjectives, while many times we cannot point to actual results that back our identification in these areas, we just think these are what we are supposed to say.
I just think these are what I am supposed to train in after all.
It was curious, I once worked at a miserable job. One time we were having a staff development and the topic of the day was creativity and innovation. Remarkably, when faced with the question of whether or not our organization were creative and innovative, a number of people said yes. They thought we were. This was an organization where the structure was best ripped from a bad Office Space type movie including the complete 1990’s soundtrack. The company often stagnated in the status quo and the last word I would ever use to describe us was innovative. Certainly effective in categories but effectively only when we stubbornly clung to our traditions. Innovative? By god no. Creative? Laughable.
The funny thing is that people don’t always recognize this, my peers didn’t. It is often difficult to believe we are not blank buzzword because the problem with these types of words is that we don’t always know how to measure them. But society has made it okay fur us to not measure. As a part of the buzzword generation we accept it. Sure, stick innovative and creative across your corporate logo. Slap on the idea that you are profoundly adventurous. Say such words as acceptance and diversity and supportive and so mote it be. We have spoken and thus as we have spoken, we have identified a place where we believe we are the way that we say we are. Anyone can slap a buzzword into their creed and call it a company value but that means nothing in the long run. Personality descriptors have about as much real-world worth as the pages of an actual print dictionary when we assign them to ourselves.
What matters as we refract and reflect on buzzwords is that we are able to prove and provide results. Call yourself creative because you actually are creative. Define it however you want to, just know you must define it. If you dare say you are passionate, dare prove it through your patterns and behaviors. The world is free and you are allowed to slap any label you want on yourself. But don’t slap a descriptor on if you cannot substantiate it in a meaningful manner.
Buzzwords are fine and good, but words have power, a power we must rekindle.
A while back, I wrote an article on why, when in relationships or any situation, I don’t say “I love you too.” Although a personal preference, for me adding the too cheapens the greater concept of love. Words have power, the words we chose and the ones we don’t.
Buzzwords have power. To answer the original question, as I did that night in that conversation with my most astute of challengers, I speak on these concepts because I have found frameworks that help people rekindle these buzzwords. These are not guaranteed paths towards accomplishing these words, simply training on them is not some powerful promised manifest destiny. There is no one direction, no perfect path that reaches a pinnacle of application just because I teach someone about these words. I least offer methods towards cultivating them. I train on buzzwords because I have made sure I know how to measure these terms.
Anyone can slap a buzzword on themselves, labeling their brand or organization or community with these types of thoughts. Many times we do it, an act of deliberate or accidental thought. Let’s stop that, least all words lose all meaning. Let’s remember to measure words before its too late.
Buzzwords only buzz as much as we allow them. Their sting only as potent as we measure. We can retake the power of words, and we must retake the significance of our language, because the issue of allowing our words to lose significance, that hurts us all.