Tag Archives: business cliche

Game Changer

GameChanger

I’m going to talk about sport. Since I know so little about sport this may be the riskiest thing I’ve done all week.

The dictionary gives the definition as;

  1.  Sports. an athlete, play, etc., that suddenly changes the outcome of game or contest.

2.  a person or thing that dramatically changes the course, strategy,character, etc., of something:

Link To Sports

I tried to think of examples of things from sports that were genuine game changers. I was thinking of the sport itself not an individual game.

Swim Start;

Once upon a time swimmers simply dived in and swam, breaking the surface almost immediately. Now athletes swim dolphin style underwater – which is faster. The rules limit this to 15m in competitive swimming to ensure the athlete’s safety. But records were broken as soon as this technique change came in.

Tennis;

When I first played tennis as a kid, it was with a racket made of wood. Nowadays they’re graphite or graphite blends, with larger heads and synthetic strings. This means the racquet delivers more power and the shock as the ball strikes is dampened by the racquet. It’s an equipment change and a game changer.

The Fosbury Flop;

in 1968 Dick Fosbury won the high jump gold with the technique now used universally in high jump, the trick is that the jumper’s centre of gravity remains below the bar. In an interview he states that he increased his jump height by half a foot (15cm) in a day. As a comparison here’s what the jumps used to look like, with the athletes landing on their feet on the other side. Fosbury’s Flop was only possible once large foam mats were used for athletes to land on.

Applies to Business

The game changers in sports can be a technique change, an equipment change or a combination of both. Business analogies might be a new business model, inventing a new technology, or exploiting a new technology.

New Business Model

Do you remember the early days of the internet when you used the book mark function of your browser because you’d never find a site again? Search engines were starting to appear, and suddenly in the late 90s Google appeared with a brand new way of searching and an effective revenue model – advertising. Without the business model none of the other search engines could ever have won the internet.

New Technology

If my grandfather could see the power of what I carry around in my mobile phone he’d think it was science fiction. Even my parents are occasionally astonished, they grew up with phones that you called the exchange and requested a number then the operator connected the call. The first mobile phones didn’t do much more than call, but along comes the smartphone and everyone wants one (almost everyone). The inventors of the of both sorts of new phones transformed personal communications. Many businesses were built on their inventions.

mobile phone timeline
(Nostalgia moment; that Motorola on the far left was the first mobile phone I ever used).

Exploiting New Technology

Netflix killed Blockbuster and Videoland by streaming videos – we no longer were forced to leave the house to choose a video. But it couldn’t have existed without the ubiquity of televisions, computers and broadband internet. The transformed the home entertainment industry by licencing and streaming high demand content. They’re in the middle of transforming the content development industry by developing award winning shows of their own such as the House of Cards.

The term “game changer” can be fairly applied to all these examples. In each case the industry was transformed or a new industry was created, the change was big, and the impact was broad. Making the change was complex and there were spin off changes that new companies could exploit – particularly for the mobile phones example.

However when I hear “game changer” used in general conversation it’s usually applied to an improvement. As one article put it “Maybe cloud computing is, in fact, a game changer. Your new HR handbook is not”. Instead we can talk about improvement, change, update, advance, upgrade, progress, revision or development.

Lets save the phrase “game changer” for those inventions, developments and improvements that really do change the game.

Images: Jenga  | Antony Mayfield  |  CC BY 2.0

Mobile Phone Timeline | Khedera | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Socialise This

SocialiseThisIf someone suggests socialising I think of convivial chat, with chardonnay and canapés. It’s pretty close the dictionary definition. But there’s another possible use, or rather two uses.

One I heard from a colleague who works in Internal Communications. For them “socialise this” means to gather feedback on a proposal or draft from a representative group, and to do so informally, either one-on-one or small groups.  I can understand this use, I think referring to it as “socialising” is an attempt to emphasis a low-key, informal approach.

Another use is to publish to social media. Particularly as many of the companies I’ve been talking to are now putting their social media management under communications and out of digital teams. In many instances social media is becoming another marketing/advertising channel rather than a community. So we already have a perfectly good word for the action of placing a piece of content online; publish.

 

Image: MSc in Air Transport Event Networking  |  Cranfield University  |  CC BY-ND 2.0

Circle Back

Circle Back

I must have looked puzzled, my colleague stopped trying to explain to me and said; “Let’s circle back on this”.

Circle back. It’s not a new term, I can find references to it online from 2009. But this was the first time I’d heard it in the wild.

He could have as easily said “let’s talk about this next week”, with the same meaning. But not quite the same feel or tone.

The Urban Dictionary gives the definition of “circle back” as

Middle-management buzzword for the need to discuss an issue at a later time.

 CNBC’s definition is a little more pejorative and includes a quote

It usually means we just had a meeting where nothing was accomplished, and we need to ‘circle back’ to have another pointless meeting,

I doubt my colleague was trying to make such a strong point, the sense I had was more “we can’t answer this now, let’s agree to do the research and see if we can answer it when we meet next week”.

Image: Light Circle  |  Louise McGregor  |  CC BY 2.0

Unicorn

Unicorn Buzzword

The unicorns of my childhood were mythical, rare and wonderful beasts. Today’s unicorns are young companies that have a valuation of 1 billion USD. That might sound like something rare and wonderful, but Venture Beat magazine lists hundreds of them, with Uber leading the list in terms of valuation. Most of the companies rely on digital technology in their business model, without it their business could not scale.

So where did the term come from?

A Techcrunch article in 2013 reported on 39 companies that had been founded in the previous ten years and were valued at more than 1 billion USD. Unicorns were rare, representing 0.07% of internet related companies funded per year.

Aileen Lee, the woman behind the Techcrunch article and who is credited with coining the term, sees that the rise in unicorns may have peaked for this wave of technologies.

But what do the companies make that is so wonderful? Most exploit the possibilities of “platform economics“, rather than make something, these companies connect supply with demand. Think of airbnb which is in the lodging services business without owning a single bedroom. Rather than building hotels and then selling those rooms to guests, airbnb offers a platform for the supply side (people with spare rooms) to offer accommodation directly to the demand (visitors to the city). These platforms are often said, in approving tones, to be “disruptive”, meaning that they change an existing industry. In many cases regulators have stepped in to limit that change, for example Amsterdam City Council limits the time allowable for rent to two months per year.

We look set to have continued disruption, and while a few experts are predicting dead unicorns on the horizon it seems we’ll see a growing number of unicorns, decacorn (companies valued at more than 10 billion) and hectacorns (companies valued at over 100 billion) for a while yet. Perhaps we are, as Fortune magazine suggest finally in the age of the unicorns.

Image: Unicorn  |  Yosuke Muroya  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

High Optics

2016June Optics

“Don’t forget,” said my boss “There are high optics on that”.

I used to work in a bar so his use of the word “optics” created quite the wrong mental picture.

The word now has a different meaning, the Macmillan dictionary defines it as “the way a situation looks to the general public”, and it’s been around business, PR and political circles in the US for at least 5 or 6 years judging by a quick online search.

It seems to be more or less neutral when used in business, with a meaning similar to “visibility”, so in my boss’s case he was letting me know that the project I was working on was very visible to upper management – which fortunately wasn’t news to me. To me having a project that’s visible to upper management is a good thing, it means what you do is important to the company and is likely to get management support, although I’d agree that it can generate some scary moments.

However in politics it’s often used in the negative sense, along the lines of “the optics really hurt the candidate”, meaning that public perception of her, or his, actions is negative. I haven’t heard it used in this year’s US election reporting, perhaps the term is dying – or perhaps this year’s election is already beyond any optics.

Image: Mine’s bigger than yours  |  Derek Finch  |  CC BY 2.0

Buzzword; Swim Lanes

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 19.23.13“Have you designed your swim lanes yet?’ isn’t a good question to ask someone whose only form of exercise is swimming. My immediate thought was of a pool, with the rows of floating lane markers.

It turns out, as those of you who have trained or worked in business process design will know, that a “swim lane” in business terms refers to groups of activities in an process that belong together or are completed by the same department. It can help clarify the responsibilities within a process by presenting them visually.  When you’re trying to set up multiple and complex processes that involve a number of participants it makes sense.

It’s a helpful metaphor since swim lanes keep swimmers apart and moving in the same direction, but don’t extend the metaphor too far – swimmers in swim lanes are generally trying to beat the other swimmers to the end of the pool. In a business process there isn’t much to “win” by being the first to finish your steps in the process.

So if you’re working business process diagrams use the term, it has a technical meaning that makes sense. Avoid using it as a synonym for a department, role, or stakeholder group.

It lost out in the first round of the Forbes Annoying Business Jargon Matchup in 2012, where the eventual winner was “drinking the Kool-aid”, so apparently this term is more useful and perhaps less abused than most jargon.

Image: Day 4 Swimming | Singapore 2010  |  CC BY-NC2.0

Astroturfing

astroturfIf you’ve ever seen a book on Amazon with a lot of vaguely positive reviews, or a hotel review on trip advisor with glowing reviews that don’t really match the photos, or a new restaurant with a suspiciously high number of reviews in its first week after opening, you may have stumbled across a case of astroturfing.

Astroturf is that fake grass seen in public sports parks, and astroturfing is, according to the Guardian;

the attempt to create an impression of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or product, where little such support exists. Multiple online identities and fake pressure groups are used to mislead the public into believing that the position of the astroturfer is the commonly held view.

We know that people trust reviews and recommendations from family and friends, but we’ll also trust consumer reviews – even when we don’t know the reviewer – ahead of any form of company communication or advertising. So it’s not surprising that some companies and organisations try to co-opt the review process for their own purposes.

It might not seem to matter much, but reviews, recommendations and star rankings affect sales, Astroturfing puts that at risk. This has become such an issue for the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, that they’re now building a technical solution to stop fake reviews.

There’s a more important potential issue at stake when this scales up, when Astroturfing is used by special interest groups it starts to influence public opinion, discredit dissenting voices,  and influence public policy as Sharyl Attkisson explains in this TEDx talk.

The signs she suggests to watch out for;

  • use of inflammatory language, for example;  crank quack nutty pseudo conspiracy
  • claiming to debug myths that aren’t myths
  • attacking the people and organisations surrounding an issue rather than addressing the facts

I’d add blocking or deleting comments from dissenters in online discussions.

As the video makes clear this is a tactic used by marketers and lobbyists, and it’s one we, as consumers need to be aware of as we read reviews and follow online discussions. And online retailers need to follow Amazon’s example and build engines to reduce the impact of astroturfers.

Image; Test Shot  |  Francois W Nel  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Boil the Ocean

boiling lake“We just need to get this done; let’s not boil the ocean”.

The mental image this phrase generates makes its meaning pretty clear. Forbes defines it “This means to waste time”. That’s not quite the sense I’ve heard it used as in the past.

Investopedia‘s definition comes closer “To undertake an impossible task or project or to make a task or project unnecessarily difficult”, but goes on to give an example I found unhelpful.

The definition that best matches the sense in which I hear “boil the ocean” comes from the Urban Dictionary;

To waste one’s time attempting to do the impossible.

Scope is too big to do in one project. Break it up into more than one. Don’t try to solve every problem at once. Identify a couple, address them, and move on.

Nailed it.

I hear the “boil an ocean” statement most often when a project hasn’t had the scope of the project defined well or has suffered from “scope creep“, where more and more has been thrown into the project bucket.

I’ve run a number of global roll-outs of tools/platforms/branding. Every time there were a raft of decisions and objections to get through. You can’t be daunted by that. You must manage stakeholders (often changing) expectations and still deliver.

Have the big vision, but define the project scope at a deliverable scale – and stick to it.

That way you won’t need to boil any oceans.

Image; The Famous Boiling Lake | Antoine Hubert | CC BY-ND 2.0

Hotwash

hotwashThis came up on a powerpoint slide of the day’s agenda “4 – 5 pm Hotwash”.

Evidently it means immediate review, according to Word Detective it comes from the US Army where it describes the debrief that occurs immediately after a mission or patrol, possibly from the literal talking while showering, more likely from the practice soldiers have of dousing their weapons in hot water after an exercise.

I’d never seen it before, and nor had any other colleagues in the room. So I’ve asked people what it makes them think of, most people said either laundry or hot tubs (which might say more about them than the subject). But the most descriptive was “hotwash sounds like a painful spa treatment involving large muscular women twisting your body in weird ways”.

In this case it was referring to the last hour of an assessment day, when all teams will discuss their assessments and we’ll check any major inconsistencies.

If I’d been writing the agenda I would have put “4 – 5 pm Review Assessments”, but then, I’m not a management consultant.

Image: Weekly Laundry | Stefan | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Burning Platform

4350193475_f1c96d4a51_z“We need to define what’s the burning platform”.

We’ve probably all heard this term, and the mental image conveys a sense of crisis and urgency. The origin is even more explicit, it comes from a (possibly apocryphal) story of a man faced with an urgent choice of certain death on an oil rig that was burning or potential death from hypothermia (or sharks) by jumping into the water below. According to the story he jumped and survived.

However the decision facing us in the meeting when I heard the term used was not a crisis, nor was there any urgency (except that imposed by our own project), nor was their a fire, and whatever the decision no lives would be lost.

So what does the term mean now?

In this case, judging by the context, the sentence meant “we need to define the business reason for this change”. But that’s far less exciting than leaping flames and swirling smoke.

Image: Fire man!  |  Paul Chaloner  | CC BY-ND 2.0