Words and expressions I want banned in 2012

Do you constantly hear certain words and expressions that drive you nuts? I look at a few that irk me.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

While others will spend the next few weeks preening themselves at the perceived accuracy of their 2011 predictions I prefer to call out words and expressions that drive me crazy for one reason or another.

Innovation: In some presentations, this word seems to pepper every sentence, acting as a prop to describe anything that is new from the vendor's development stable. Wikipedia defines innovation  as:

Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.

Wikipedia does a solid job of pointing up some of the nuances attached to the term but none of them reflect the way I see the 'I' word used. For me, the important part of Wikipedia's analysis is the 'accepted by markets, governments and society.' The way technology companies use the term it is as if what they are introducing is already accepted when that is almost never the case. I'll be far more impressed when vendors figure out the beneficial impact whatever they're introducing is/will provide.

Game changer: Often used in conjunction with 'innovation.' It is one of those expressions that assumes all manner of things like...the game (whatever that is) needs changing and it's happening right now. Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines the term as:

a person, an idea or an event that completely changes the way a situation develops

Does that sound reasonable? The key point is that the term almost invariably has to be used in hindsight. It is rare that we see any enterprise technology which, at the time of its appearance, is self evidently something that makes a genuine difference of the kind implied by the above definition. The difficulty is that the pace of change that is occurring encourages use of this expression with insufficient thought about the implications of how the 'game' is or will change. That's not to say that many of the things we see are not game changers. A good example is iPad. It's astonishing that within a couple of years since its introduction, that device has gone from executive toy to something that is garnering widespread enterprise adoption. Game changing? Probably - but only in hindsight and, I'm betting that was not in many people's predictive thoughts.

Social enterprise: It's impossible to leave this one off the list. I've consistently railed against the use of this and its related term 'social business,' largely because of its social implications and the difficulties those represent inside business. For example, Harvard is hosting its 13th social enterprise conference. That worried me because the term as I know it has only been in the common enterprise discourse for some five years. But then I looked more closely at what this conference is about. Among its goals:

To showcase innovative ideas, trends, and people within social enterprise to encourage better solutions to the world’s most pressing social problems

Compare that with the way Salesforce.com views social enterprise:

Weaving a social context into your business is quickly becoming a prerequisite for success. It's time to transform your business for the new social reality. It's time to delight your customers by connecting to them—and to your employees—in new and powerful ways. Welcome to the Social Enterprise.

See the problem? And that's before we get into a debate about the reality of what Salesforce.com (and many others) see as the 'social enterprise' or its impact. That requires an essay in its own right. Oh - and don't be confused by what I'm saying in light of the Jive IPO. Talking up a technology is in the nature of financial analysts keen for their institutional customers to cash in. That's not the same as saying early examples portend any future but then we all know how financial sentiment can take on a life of its own.

Customer conference: This might seem an odd one but the more conferences I attend, the more I see them as flogathons designed to immerse customers in whatever the vendor is choosing to sell. Keynotes are increasingly becoming chest pounding exercises designed to assure buyers how great the vendor and its products are while nodding towards Wall Street masters. There are exceptions. When vendors seek my advice about conference content I always say the same thing: customers, customers, customers front and center. I usually point vnedors to the example of how TIBCO uses its conference to get out of the way as fast as it can while customers tell their unfiltered stories. Vendors will argue that conferences contain plenty of customer content. That's true except the keynote presentations I see are almost always too pat, too contrived, too lopsided.

Gamification: This is not a term I'd like to see banned in the same way as others but one I hope does not end up becoming diluted to meaninglessness or triviality by over enthusiastic marketers. When I first heard this term it was in the context of the way Lithium describes its understanding of what motivates buyers and how technology can capture and enhance the value that enthusiasts can bring to the sales process. I have no difficulty with this. Where it starts to fall apart is when people stress the gaming aspects to the exclusion of other elements like behavioural economics. The gamification blog sensibly points to the generality of direction in this emerging area:

Many folks often end up missing the fact that while gamification is influenced by game design, it doesn’t depend solely on those concepts for meaning or success. So even as game design concepts are being adapted to the reality of a gamified consumer, they are morphing and becoming something different.

As 2012 unfolds, I'd like to see the science evolve at its own pace with more case examples and further explanations of what is working.

Above everything, I'd like to see the abandonment of stodgy, tired expressions that lack innovation and fail to act as game changing. Instead I'd like to see socially rewarded customers but without them feeling they've been cynically manipulated by thinly disguised game play.

Have I missed any obvious howlers? What words/expressions drive you nuts or leave you choking? Talkback in comments.

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