10 business cliches that make you sound like an idiot

Man telling cat 'never, ever think outside the box' and pointing to cat litter tray

How did I whittle it down this list of business cliches to just 10? Well I burnt the candle at both ends doing some mind mapping, then I put my game face on and at the end of the day, I gave it 110% and decided to run theses examples up the flag pole and see who saluted them.

  1. Work smarter, not harder. Are you suggesting that I am working stupidly? Please tell me more about how you avoid effort and produce results by simply sounding clever.
  2. Manage expectations. In other words, make sure no one expects you to work at more than 70 percent capacity.
  3. Separate the men from the boys. Oh, so testosterone and old-fashioned masculinity are what drive profits. I guess I had better pack away this business plan and go back to the kitchen then.
  4. Impactful. It’s not a word. It’s ridiculous.
  5. Go after the low-hanging fruit. Despite it’s popularity, this phrase conveys no meaning. You want to be lazy and get what’s easy? You want what everyone else can get, and is therefore less valuable? You want the fruit full of wasps and grubs? Why?
  6. Iterative. Stop saying this word. Just stop saying it.
  7. This is our deliverable. I defer to Eric Jackson to explain this one: “I know this sounds like something that comes in a body bag, but it makes our PowerPoint sound tougher than it actually is.”
  8. Digital native. Someone whose parents are still paying for all their gadgets and their internet connection.
  9. This marketing campaign could go viral. Really? Could it? And if it does, then will you feel confidant in the future of your business simply by knowing that you have joined the ranks of the Bonnie Tyler spoof and a piano playing cat?
  10. Going forward. I’ll let David Mitchell handle this last one:


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21 Responses to 10 business cliches that make you sound like an idiot

  1. Re: “going forward.”

    Here in the U.S., this fetish is expressing itself increasingly as “on a go-forward basis.” As in, “we’ll be reducing our debt-to-operating income ratio on a go-forward basis.” Arrggh!

    There is no such thing as a go-forward basis. It’s called “the future”!

    Great list, by the way.

    • I couldn’t agree more. There’s really no need to say ‘on a go-forward basis’ or even ‘in future’. When else can you do something? Unless you invent a time machine, nobody’s going to go back and do something in the past! 🙂

  2. jfs says:

    “Are you suggesting that I am working stupidly? ”

    Sometimes, yes.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times where I’ve watched someone carry out a process where they’ve not used the tools they have at their disposal to make their lives easier (this includes watching someone type a column of numbers into Excel, then taking out a calculator, typing those numbers in there and typing the sum that the calculator gave into the ‘total’ box in Excel. And getting the wrong answer because they’d made a typo on the calculator).

    You make not like the phrase ‘work smarter, not harder’ but it’s a lot more snappy than ‘every once in a while, why not take a few minutes to look at the things that you’re doing and see if there’s an easier and more efficient way of achieving what you’re hoping to achieve.’

    • Completely understand. I think Clare was just using a bit of artistic licence and sarcasm to make her point. But actually when you think about the words rather than what we think they mean, do you work ‘smarter’? It literally doesn’t make sense. I know what you’re saying but this phrase doesn’t say that; it just means it because it’s become a cliche.

      • Jfs says:

        See, I’d say ‘make a virtue of laziness’ instead. But then I have to explain that I mean “take the time to think things out so you only do something once, and in the shortest time possible without having to go back and fix anything because you did it wrong in the first place.”

        But that’s not snappy either 🙂

    • Janice Halligan says:

      Oh yes. What jfs said just there … I cannot bear to watch this and it goes on far more than people might imagine. If I can, and it’s an area that I understand, I will write a tool that makes life easier. How others can do stupid things over and over and waste their own time is beyond me. Fascinatingly so when they seem to be genuinely surprised at how much easier things could have been for so long.

  3. Brad says:

    By and large I agree. I’ve been around long enough to see catch-phrases come and go a few times (e.g., synergy). But still:

    Re: manage expectations. What phrase to you recommend using to describe controlling a situation where a group (e.g., sales) sees a prototype and tells customers that the product is ready to ship?

    Re: iterative. This word is a part of the standard vocabulary in my field (software engineering). It has a definite meaning to us, and no, we’re not about to stop using it because of your list. It’s not our fault that engineering terms get picked up by morons.

    • “It’s not our fault that engineering terms get picked up by morons.” I think this is precisely the point we’re making here! And you put it very well. Many business cliches start off having a really clear meaning in a specific field but get picked up by bozos and used inappropriately to make them feel clever. It doesn’t work and in the end we’re all poorer for it. 🙂

  4. Jfs says:

    Actually, I’ll trade you anything on the list for “give 110%”.

  5. Mark says:

    Are you sure you didn’t use to work at the same company as me – every one of those cliches was in common use there!

    The other one that used to wind me up was people talking about “ramping up resources”, which as far as I could tell simply meant recruiting more staff.

    • I completely agree Mark. It’s so demeaning to the actual employees to call them ‘resources’ that can be ‘ramped up’ like wet earth. I get equally pained when I hear people refer to writing as ‘content’ as if it’s nothing more than rubble to fill in a hole.

  6. Taina says:

    What’s up with the hate regarding the phrase “going forward”?? Could it be that this was written by a Republican???

    There’s nothing wrong with the phrase. Your assertions about the fact that “not all change is good change” and “going forward doesn’t mean for the better” make it quite obvious to me that this is merely political and has nothing to do with language. Please…

    • Clare Dodd says:

      I promise that this post had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with language. I can see why you might have thought otherwise following Obama’s rhetoric in this last election season, but my views here are concerned only with words and the effective and appropriate way to convey meaning when using them.


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