The Synergy of the Growth Hack Paradigm

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Non Sequitur for 10/7/2019:

Not that I'm fond of business jargon, but I've felt for a long time that corporate managers are unfairly branded as the object of more general linguistic peeves, for the same reasons that women and "kids today" and other potentially stigmatized groups are:

"'At the end of the day' not management-speak", 9/26/2009
"A century of complaints about business jargon", 9/15/2013

And if you search Google News for pivot, synergy, and paradigm, you'll find (ignoring the brand name versions) that politicians, sportswriters, and school administrators are at least as likely to be the guilty parties.

But I confess that "growth hack" is mostly corporate language. Though there are a few emigrants into other domains, like this one



  1. Chandra said,

    October 9, 2019 @ 2:20 pm

    While I agree that corporate managers may be unfairly singled out for this type of jargon amongst other types of high-profile figures, I find it odd to suggest that it's for the same reasons as women, young people etc. The speech patterns of the latter group are seen as low-prestige because of the speakers' undervalued social status, whereas the speech patterns of business managers are seen as excessively grandiose as a means of showing off their high-prestige status. So I'd say the reasons are nearly opposite.

    [(myl) The stereotypes are certainly different, but I think the psychodynamics is similar. As I wrote in "The social psychology of linguistic naming and shaming", 2/27/2007:

    Social annoyance and public griping reinforce one another.

    By social annoyance I mean a distaste for the way someone looks or acts that sees its object as an instance of a type. Someone's appearance or behavior gets under your skin, and it's not just that particular person, it's the whole class of people who look like that or act like that. And usually it's not just a random set of people, it's kids today, or jocks, or German tourists, or 30-something suburban women in Hummers, or those people who hang out with so-and-so. You associate the irritant with some salient combination of social features: race, ethnicity, age, sex, class, location, occupation, clique.

    By public griping I mean the process of sharing your annoyance with a sympathetic group. You might trade anecdotes around the coffee machine or the dinner table, or write a letter to the editor. People enjoy listening in groups to skillful expressions of social annoyance, and so stand-up comedians do a lot of this. Cartoons and newspaper columns often express similar feelings, and allow you to join in by putting a clipping or printout up on your refrigerator or your office door. These days, you might send a copy to your friends by email, or chime in on your weblog.


  2. Harry said,

    October 10, 2019 @ 12:55 am

    The difference is that corporates get paid massive amounts for using handwavy jargon. I'd say they're not on the payroll for being vague and evasive about what they mean. So even if this is a general tendency in the general population, in my view corporates should be getting paid to actively suppress it, rather than to use it to hide their lack of insight. The general population has more slack in that respect.

  3. loonquawl said,

    October 10, 2019 @ 1:11 am

    While i concur that managers are not the only ones to blame for this kind of content-obfuscation, other attributions run the risk of circularity: "Vacuous speakers speak vacuously" – i would thus attribute it to the group with the highest perceived usage – which is managers. Parts and pieces get regurgitated by members of the general public (trying for a managerial tone? school administrators, for instance), but the feature-complete 'corporate language' i have yet only encountered in a corporate setting, perpetrated by managers or those aspiring to be.

    Keep in mind that there is a whole lot of deplorable people out there whose primary written-word-input (and thus their formative stimulus for 'formal' speech) is business related. Beginning a sentence with 'At the end of the day, ' is scarcely more than an 'Uh, ', perceived by the speaker to be more pleasing to the ear – such fillers will be taken from a store that is filled by precedent, and that precedent is probably supplied by one of the rambling corporate messages one is inundated with in a typical office job.

  4. Gregory Kusnick said,

    October 10, 2019 @ 1:48 pm

    I would imagine that corporate managers, like anyone else, are paid in accordance with their ability to do their jobs effectively — including communicating clearly with their subordinates — and not for their virtuosity at wielding obfuscatory jargon.

  5. David Udin said,

    October 11, 2019 @ 12:12 pm

    Imagination aside, effectiveness is only one potential way to get ahead in the corporate world. In my experience, the ability to look and act the part–nice suit, tall, (oh, yeah, male), facility with the jargon, and ability to use the jargon to obfuscate as well as, only occasionally, to be precise, have a lot to do with rising to one's level of incompetence in the corporate world.

    A lot of business jargon is rooted in magical thinking–my favorite is synergy. Corporate mergers are justified appealing to synergy–that the whole will be more than the sum of the parts. This often leads to disappointment because the whole ends up with redundant elements and internal culture wars leading to a fragmented whole that is less than the sum of the parts.

    This kind of jargon falls into the bullshit category, wielded to justify a position because it sounds good, without examining whether it actually applies to the situation.

    Jargon is justified when it is specific and precise–every activity has its own terms, useful because those using it know precisely what they mean. It's the butt of humor because of its incomprehensibility to the uninitiated (humor that annoys those who do know what it means) and, primarily, because we have all encountered people who use it to impress the uninitiated or to obfuscate, and we are all happy to make fun of those kind of people.

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