Dealing with terms that are buzzy, trendy and (probably) useless

Dealing with terms that are buzzy, trendy and (probably) useless
Photo by Valentin Lacoste / Unsplash

A big problem with a lot of marketing, sales and product management advice is that it’s full of nebulous, fuzzily defined "thought leadership" terms like "growth hacking", "product-led growth" and "delighting the user".

Even worse are even more calorically-empty (and often transient) buzzwords such as "ninja", "rockstar" and “big hairy audacious goals” 

(Does anyone still use the last one or is that now considered totally passé? Seems so very early-mid 2000’s lol)

In my opinion, terms like "growth hacking" and "product-led growth" are relatively salvageable because - however cringey they sound - they at least contain seeds of useful (or somewhat useful) concepts.

On the other hand, terms like "rockstar" or "ninja" are generally entirely bereft of any meaningful real-world business application and serve mainly to either:

  • Create the false image of the speaker having a true (or substantive) understanding of the topic; and/or
  • Make them appear in-tune with the latest, buzzy business concept du jour

More specifically, these types of terms serve as shorthand to mask the lack of real understanding of a concept's underlying moving parts (and the inter-relationships between these individual parts).

One big reason I think this is so common is because many people, by reflex, merely parrot what they have read (or heard) because it sounds "inherently right" without also taking the time (or effort) to consider what (if anything) is behind the term.

In other words, what are the moving parts behind the concept, and what are the inter-relationships between these constituent parts? Also, what is the relationship between the "ideas behind the idea" and other concepts in the world?

This is like how children mimic their parents and other children out of instinct or habit rather than conscious deliberation.

Now, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with repeating words and concepts (we all do it).

But there's a fundamental difference between repeating by rote versus repeating anchored by a foundation of basic understanding.

In other words, does the term help to increase understanding of a concept (or bundle of concepts) - or does it obscure the underlying idea(s)?

But you know what?

Upon further reflection I think it's to be expected - and to some extent, ok. 


Because most people are busy and have so much going on in their professional and personal lives. 

Maybe it's a keynote presentation their boss signed them up for - but which they don't actually want to do.

Or maybe it's getting through the weekly 3-hour Friday "update" meeting (the "Let's touch base!" meetings).

Or maybe it's creating marketing content for social media where catchy phrases actually hook people's attention and create measurable outcomes (e.g. more followers or more comments).

There's so many things to do but there's only finite time in a day. One may not actually want to understand the intricacies of something they may not be involved with over the medium or long-term.

For example, if you were a recruiter of engineering talent, would you need to know the different parts of "growth hacking"?

I think these types of buzzy terms, while calorically empty (or near empty), can in fact be useful professional shorthand and social lubricants. 

If I tell you I want to "growth hack" your latest product, you will probably intuit that we want to get you as much exposure and traction as possible, at the lowest possible cost.

If I tell you we want a "rockstar" hire, you will instinctively come up with a list of qualities in a high performer employee/contractor to put into the job ad. 

(Though to be honest, none of these reasons, however legitimate, change how gross-sounding these terms are)

In other words, it helps a general audience (or a professional one, but unspecialized in your niche) quickly understand the end objective - but without necessarily needing to understand all the moving parts needed to realize that objective.

At the end of the day, I think it's fine to use these types of shorthand. 

As the song says, Let It Be.

And hey, I think it's probably a good thing that people don't understand what's behind these terms. 


Because it means that the minority of people who understand how to deploy, leverage and scale the "ideas behind the idea" will make more money, build bigger audiences, have less churn, enjoy more repeat purchases, etc.

Hopefully this minority includes you.

After all, business is competitive enough - why make it more difficult for yourself by wishing for more capable competition?