Happy New Year!
This time of year we get inundated with lists. In the past few days I’ve seen lists of the top ten best and worst of just about everything in 2011.
My theory is that we like lists because (1) they are easy to read and (2) they give us a sense of community when we find that we share similar likes and dislikes as other people.
But I managed to find a list that is neither easy to read nor conducive to a feeling of belonging to the mainstream. It is a list of the top twenty-five up and coming business buzzwords from Business News Daily.
These are terms that we are likely to hear in 2012 as people attempt to make simple things sound esoteric and complicated. For some reason, business people like to do that.
Sometimes this is desirable, at least for people delivering bad news. For example, if a company’s sales are down, why would they want to say something as prosaic as “sales and profits are down” and run the risk of having to explain why when they could say, “the Y axis of the revenue curve continues to sustain sub optimal impetus over time with a concomitant microeconomic entropic impact on earnings.”
When giving a presentation, it is infinitely preferable to bore and confuse your audience, rather than to simply bore them. And when you make people think that things are really complex and difficult, they like you. Because then they don’t feel so bad about not being able to figure out what’s going on.
Let’s have a look at some of these terms that you are likely to hear this year to see how simple ideas can be complicated with fancy terminology.
Crowdsource. Not a term you could reasonably work out from the context. I thought it referred to the source of a crowd as in “The Justin Bieber concert proved to be a real crowdsource.” But no. It means outsourcing your work to the crowd. It originally referred to diverse groups developing software and this was supposed to be Good because theoretically everyone would contribute their own personal cool feature or idea and the solution would be all things to all people. This is why your smart phone is smarter than you (i.e., you can’t figure out how it works).
Another more disturbing application of crowdsourcing was when the company that makes Doritos had customers off the street design the Doritos Superbowl ad. A lot of people in the marketing/PR world were breathless over the idea because the theory is that the most effective advertising would be designed by the very people who were supposed to be targeted by the advertising. But it sounds to me like making a prisoner plug in the electric chair before they strap him in.
Fremium. A really stupid word to describe something we all dislike. It is a combination of the words “free” and “premium” and refers to a product offering in which you get part for free and then pay a premium for other (indispensable) parts. So you might get a phone for free but pay through the nose for a calling plan. So basically you should ignore the “free” in fremium.
Digital nomad. Someone who can work anywhere because of technology. Big deal. Why do we need a term to describe that phenomenon? When was the last time you were at a party and someone came up to you and introduced themselves saying, “Hi, I’m Waldo Poindexter, digital nomad.” But it sounds better than saying, “My job doesn’t require me to interact with other people and I like it that way. So does my boss.”
Big data. Wow, this one’s really esoteric. It refers to giant databases of stuff that are hard to manage with traditional database management systems. Things like weather patterns, population trends and the list of Paris Hilton’s Twitter followers are big data. For some reason, no one seems to be talking about little data.
Knowledge economy. Another economy that we like to talk about because it’s doing better than the real economy. The problem is that you can be rich in knowledge and still be broke. And worse, there are a lot of really wealthy people out there who are fairly bankrupt when it comes to the knowledge economy.
Skills transfer. Just what you think it means. But doesn’t your resume sound better if you say, “I am looking for an opportunity for a mutually beneficial skills transfer,” instead of, “I’m hoping to put my years of fast food service experience to good use”?
Cross platform. A fancy term to describe why iTunes from Apple runs on your Windows computer.
Social looping. Getting in the loop, e.g., by joining a Facebook group. Now you know.
Gamification. I don’t know what’s worse—the word or the concept. The idea is that everyone likes playing games, especially video games, so if we make everything look and feel like a game, life will be better. Already widespread in schools, someone is trying to do this for tax return preparation. How will you win that one?
Although a lot of fancy new terms are IT related, not surprisingly the best ones come from the world of marketing. Here’s a sample of some new names given to old ideas.
Authority marketing. Remember those TV ads where the guy in the white coat says “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV?” That’s authority marketing. The idea is that people will listen to (and buy stuff on the recommendation of) experts.
Osmosis marketing. A fancy term for a horrible concept that is employed by marketers who can’t find an authority to advertise their product. The idea is that if we are exposed to enough advertising about a product, eventually we will break down and buy it. When used in a military context, the term is “saturation bombing.”
Retail curation. Gird thy loins for this one. A curator in a museum is the person who organizes the exhibits and makes them tell a meaningful story. A retail curator organizes products in a retail setting and, according to trendwatching.com, pre-selects “what to buy, what to experience, what to wear, what to read, what to drink and so on.” So basically this is outsourcing your life to someone else. I don’t like this concept because (1) I believe we should exercise our free will and (2) it is responsible for things like Crocs and the overabundance of vampire and zombie books and movies.
I’m not sure you will find many opportunities to use these words in casual conversation in the New Year, but at least the next time you are exposed to some osmosis marketing, do some social looping or are victimized by a fremium scheme, you will know what to call it. And if you see a retail curator–run!