Tag Archives: Buzzword

In My Wheelhouse

wheelhouse2

“OK,  we’ve found your wheelhouse”

I had never heard this before, despite growing up sailing and having a professional mariner for a father. I would say bridge on a ship or cockpit on a yacht.

It seems to have come into the language via baseball for reasons only known to Americans, although the person I was speaking to is Australian.

It just means your area of expertise and it’s rather literal, think of a ship’s captain and the area where they command the ship – it’s the wheelhouse. So if something is in my wheelhouse it’s in my area of competency and expertise.

It’s a cute idiom, and relatively easy to get from the context. For once it’s one I like, wonder what other nautical terms I can borrow; skeg, gudgeon and walty have potential.

Images: Wheelhouse of the S.S. Eureka, San Francisco, California | Scott Johnson  |  CC BY NC-ND 2.0

Powerpoint Bunny

Sept2016Powerpointbunny

A while back the head of the department came to me with an urgent request at a particularly busy time; he needed a powerpoint presentation “rescued”,  he knew my team was busy but was there any way someone could help. I said everyone in the team was busy as well, but I was pretty good with powerpoint – if he could show me what he wanted perhaps I could do it.

Long story short I volunteered to do the work for him on the condition that he didn’t tell anyone else because I did not want to be the person who always fixes powerpoint.  There’s now a term for that person – POWERPOINT BUNNY.

The Office Life gives the definition as;

Someone who is dedicated to the art of putting other people’s hard work into cheesy, over-animated slideshows.

For my the presentation for my boss I didn’t add animations or cheese graphics, I’d like to think I improved the slides. I spent some time last week working on someone else’s presentation.  In this case I did put transitions in (the presentation needed to loop), but no animations, and I may have added one or two cheesy images – in my defence the text demanded it.

But I do find myself itching to “fix” presentations of colleagues or sometimes at conferences. Particularly slides that have dull images, too much text, don’t support the speaker’s story, or so much content that I stop listening to the speaker. Here’s a video of all that can go wrong with powerpoint.

I’m willing to be a Powerpoint Bunny from time to time, life is too short for bad powerpoint.

Image: Keep Me Safe  |  Kevin O’Mara  

 

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

Form a SWAT team

2016April_Swat

When I first heard this term it was in a movie or a TV programme. I understood from the context that it was a specially trained team, but I didn’t stop to ask what it stood for; according to wikipedia it’s “Special Weapons and Tactics”.

The term seems to have crept into business language, and taken on the meaning of a special project team brought in to solve an urgent problem. They generally have a a single focus to solve the problem and a stronger mandate to get things done. Which does make we wonder; why not just give the existing team the power to solve the problem in the first place – perhaps before it even became a problem.

Often the existing team has no capacity to address a big new issue, or they may lack the knowledge to make a change. Here’s Obama talking at this year’s SXSW about making government more digital, he put in place a “Digital SWAT Team” to make this happen (from about 9.30 to 15.00).

In this case it’s clear that the knowledge brought into the US government services was able to address the problems of legacy systems, and outdated knowledge. They had the mandate to act, supported by the most powerful person in the country – of course they could get stuff done.

Image: The Pre-K SWAT Team  |  Rob Briscoe  | 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