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The words you use are making you stupid

The startup scene is permeated with buzzwords whose original meaning, if it ever existed, has been bastardized, forgotten or disregarded completely.

Marwin Soudi
December 3, 2019
The words you use are making you stupid | FUN

“Foster entrepreneurs, build ecosystems, and impact economies”

Disruptive innovation. Fostering entrepreneurs. MVP this and pivot that!

The startup scene is permeated with buzzwords whose original meaning, if it ever existed, has been bastardized, forgotten or disregarded completely. It’s full of pointless events, stupid company slogans that want to “Foster entrepreneurs, build ecosystems, and impact economies”. What the fuck does that even mean? FUCK YOU!

I’m hardly the first person to point this out, but I want to explain why it matters. My argument is this:

When individuals use buzzwords as crutches that let them avoid thinking critically about what they’re trying to achieve and why, it undermines their ability to think clearly and concretely.

When entire communities accept buzzwords as substitutes for clear and concrete thinking, this undermines their effectiveness and their ability to change the world around them in the ways that matter.

Where it all begins…

I’ll describe how this happens, but first, let me give an illustration of the problem:

A startup summit is taking place at your local co-working space, and you attended one of the talks. There is a 99.9 percent chance it’ll go like this…”We are a  on a mission to invest in the future of ‘disruptive innovation’ in the FinTech Global Sharing Economy of……” and he loses you right there and takes five extra minutes explaining what that is. Excuse me while I gag.

If you want to give the speaker a brain hemorrhage, walk up to them while everyone is networking, eating cookies and sipping on lattes, and ask them genuinely and as bluntly as possible, “can you please define what you mean by disruptive innovation?”

I guarantee you it will have nothing to do with the words “disruptive” o el “innovation”.

Very few innovations are truly disruptive. Yet rare is the innovation that doesn’t get pitched as “disruptive”.

The Words You Use Are Making You Stupid

The fact is, that a truly powerful way to talk about a new product or business is in Plain English. The more innovative your product actually is, the less you’ll need to use buzzwords to justify it. 

Tom Fishburne

It’s amazing how stupid things come out of people’s faces so irresponsibly, without ever stopping to question and think. This potentially leads people’s intelligence astray.

People and companies like that ruin the potential of what entrepreneurship could be and turn it into one superficial shit-ball of a mess.

Entrepreneurship and all that it entails has many founding concepts that encourage abstract thinking and dream-like (if not almost blind) ambition. There tends to be a move away from concrete and clearly conceptualized ideas and the love for the abstract form of thinking has brought us ever so close to an abstract way of communication.

News flash people, “abstract” is open to interpretation and subjective understanding that creates meaningless buzzwords that lost entrepreneurs latch on to. It’s not a bad thing to push individuals towards abstract concepts. It helps build depth and connections to different frames of thinking, but it’s really dangerous to start off on the deep end. These things take practice, like swimming. You don’t start off on the deep end and do a three-sixty backflip and torpedo into the water, you start out looking like a dumbass wearing floaters accompanied with a wheel the size of a fucking whale! Learning anything well takes practice, understanding, and time.

This Sucks!

Everyone today at events is CEO of ‘this’ and they’re each building an MVP to disrupt the who gives a shit market. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met supposed experienced individuals that have latched on to buzzwords and concepts that they cannot define themselves.

If you’ve spent any time around startups or entrepreneurs, chances are you’ve heard things like “we’re launching an MVP,” or heard of job titles like “Chief Innovation Officer” and “Hacker-in-Residence.” Even I have to admit guilt in falling into the traps and giving myself some bullshit title like ‘User Experience Evangelist’… wtf!

How often do you pause to think about what these terms mean, and whether your definitions align with the definitions of the people around you? What does an Innovation Officer innovate exactly? How do they know if they’re even innovating?

Being precise about language matters. Using terms that do not connect to concrete, widely-understood concepts is dangerous.

To paraphrase George Orwell,

“We use fuzzy language because our thoughts are fuzzy. But the fuzziness of our language also makes it easier for us to have fuzzy thoughts.”

This matters because our goals as entrepreneurs should not be fuzzy: we have concrete things we want to accomplish. Our startups, businesses, and products are a means to an end. There are things we observe about reality (lack of clean drinking water, air pollution, unemployment), and we want to change them.

Using poorly-defined terms without having a clear idea of what they mean is like trying to play chess with boxing gloves on. You can’t be precise, and you can’t have the impact that you want to have. But the effect is even more insidious than that: you think you understand what you’re saying, but you don’t. Or, worse still, you think others understand what you’re saying and they don’t. If we’re not clear about our concepts, we can’t be sure that our actions will have the impact we seek.

In order to change reality, we can’t let ourselves be fooled into thinking we understand it when we actually don’t.

An engineer who wants to build a rocket to go to the moon cannot simply toss out jargon — “geosynchronous, lunar module, drag equations” — and end with a team that precisely knows how to work together and build a rocket that works. If her understanding of any of these concepts is flawed, she and her whole team will ultimately fail.

Identically, a new graduate can say “our startup improves digital literacy,” but if you don’t have clarity on what digital literacy actually is, then your business will not have its intended effect. That isn’t to say it will have no effect. It might even be profitable. But is it solving the problem that you actually wanted to solve? Is it creating the effect you wanted it to have?

In the short term, and for individual founders, this might not matter. You can still move on, make money or even possibly get acquired. But if that happened without having a well-defined goal that stems from clear and concise thinking, communication and understanding, I would attribute it to luck that we should not emulate. In a society filled with startups that aren’t based on well-thought-out ideas that aren’t solving real problems, over the long-run society won’t have achieved any significant progress.

Over the long run, one would end up stuck in the ambiguity of ideas, and god knows I’ve seen entrepreneurs years down the road still chasing a dream and thinking they’ve achieved something because they won some prize from an organization with yet another buzzwordy name like “The Unicorn Tech Girls Competition”.

On a positive note:

I want you to know that it’s OK. It’s OK you’ve built your whole life’s ambition and goals on vague superficial bullshit.

If you see yourself in this situation, that’s understandable and it’s okay: after all you are in a superficial environment. Fuckup or not, you are probably a fuckup by the osmosis of dumb around you.

The only grave mistake would be thinking you’re a brilliant outlier who is not affected by your surroundings. Even if you don’t think you’re a fuckup, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and re-evaluate: chances are, you probably are.

Now you know……change.

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The words you use are making you stupid


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