BUSI­NESS SPEAK

THERE’S A PLACE FOR US­ING TERMS SUCH AS ‘NET-NET’, ‘SCAL­ABLE’, ‘BLUESKY­ING’ AND ‘OP­TI­MIS­ING’ — AND THAT PLACE ISN’T ANY­WHERE OUT­SIDE THE OF­FICE. TIME TO LEAVE THE EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR­IAL LINGO TO, YOU KNOW, THE EN­TREPRENEURS. CAN WE ALL AC­TION THAT? STAT.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE GQ -

Go­ing for­ward, please, no more 'scal­able' this and ‘piv­ot­ing’ that.

An em­bar­rass­ing thing hap­pened re­cently at a prom­i­nent Sil­i­con Al­ley eatery. A young CEO was en­joy­ing a pleas­ant din­ner with his in­vestors when he was sud­denly shown the door by res­tau­rant staff. Turns out, the maître d’ over­heard the exec say, “Guys, I need to exit im­me­di­ately,” and took it lit­er­ally. It’s hard to blame the poor waiter for his con­fu­sion. Once upon a time, talk of exit strate­gies was con­fined to fre sta­tions and mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties, but as start-up cul­ture in­creas­ingly in­fects daily life, such in­sider lingo has be­come stan­dard even in so­cial set­tings. There are prece­dents: English is a ver­bal melt­ing pot that never stops boiling, a mash-up of hud­dled masses, a gor­geous mo­saic of ac­cents, in­fec­tions and in­to­na­tions. Over the past few decades, our ver­nac­u­lar has in­cor­po­rated such di­alects as

Bondi Boho, Bo­gan Mag­nate and Toorak Trust Fund among other spices, into our au­ral stew. Not sur­pris­ingly, the lin­guis­tic favour of the mo­ment mir­rors our latest col­lec­tive cul­tural fas­ci­na­tion. In­deed, driven by shows like Shark Tank, on which the likes of Ja­nine Al­lis (Boost Juice), An­drew Banks (Talent2), John Mcgrath (Mcgrath Real Es­tate) and Naomi Sim­son (Red­bal­loon) have democra­tised such pre­vi­ously es­o­teric con­cepts as pre-money val­u­a­tion, con­vert­ible notes, and sup­ply­chain man­age­ment, not to men­tion other pop-cul­ture con­fec­tions inspired by the youtoo-can-be-a-bil­lion­aire tech bub­ble (we’re look­ing at you Sil­i­con Val­ley), busi­ness jar­gon seems to have be­come our lin­gua franca. It’s as if our mother tongue had been in­cu­bated in an MBA ac­cel­er­a­tor. Call it the mis­sion creep of start-up-speak, the Esperanto of entrepreneurship. Let’s face it: we’re all ‘dis­rup­tive in­no­va­tors’ now. And the sad truth is, we sound kind of wanky. You’ve surely heard sim­i­lar stuff. Per­haps it started when your mum la­belled her­self ‘chief do­mes­tic of­fcer’. Or when a barista said he was ‘ex­pe­dit­ing’ your latte. Or was it the cus­tomer-ser­vice rep who promised to ‘ac­tion’ your item? Maybe it was the time your bar­tender de­cided to ‘so­cialise’ a new cock­tail or when your cousin ‘piv­oted’ from com­merce to phi­los­o­phy at uni? Maybe it was when the babysit­ter quit be­cause the gig wasn’t ‘scal­able’. Or the day ev­ery sin­gle one of your friends started ‘cir­cling back’, ‘tee­ing up’, ‘blue-sky­ing’, ‘white­board­ing’, or ‘run­ning point’ on some­thing? The straw that broke our back? The elec­tri­cian who emailed, ‘Will re­vert by COB.’ WTF? But we can’t just blame oth­ers, be­cause chances are we’re also talk­ing the talk. Was that re­ally you who slipped into cor­po­rate-speak and ‘tasked’ your as­sis­tant to pick up the dry-clean­ing? Could it be you who just chirped, with­out the slight­est irony, ‘Net-net, we had a pretty good hol­i­day?’ Did you re­ally tell your bud­dies you had a ‘fric­tion-free’ buck’s party or that you ‘op­ti­mised’ your break­fast? So how did it hap­pen? What in­fected us? Ac­cord­ing to An­drew Yang, CEO of Ven­ture for Amer­ica, a non-proft that helps young peo­ple start com­pa­nies in emerg­ing cities, it’s just life im­i­tat­ing cap­i­tal­ism. “We’re evolv­ing be­cause the work­place now makes it a pri­or­ity for em­ploy­ees to be­come more en­tre­pre­neur­ial.” The risk, as Yang points out, is that all this of­f­cial-sound­ing nomen­cla­ture – MVP, boot­strap­ping, hackathon, ac­qui-hire, big data, fail fast – threat­ens to turn us into a horde of con­form­ist clowns with a com­mu­nal vo­cab­u­lary so over­sat­u­rated that it loses all mean­ing. “It’s start­ing to get a lit­tle ridicu­lous,” ad­mits Yang, with a sigh. Other stu­dents of lin­guis­tics are more san­guine, chalk­ing it up to hu­man na­ture. Jim Stigler, a psy­chol­o­gist and co-founder of Startup UCLA, an on-cam­pus univer­sity in­cu­ba­tor, says mass lan­guage adop­tion like this hap­pens all the time. “Hu­man be­ings take con­cepts from one do­main and in­fuse them into another. It’s just the way the mind works and what drives cre­ative change. If there’s a ft and a need, peo­ple will latch onto some­thing.” So how long must we ex­pect to keep on latch­ing on? Ac­cord­ing to Michael Adams, a univer­sity pro­fes­sor spe­cial­is­ing in the history of the English lan­guage, jar­gon en­dures if it’s elas­tic enough to branch into more gen­eral types of speech. “Look at slang like ‘yada yada yada’,” he says. “That was a mostly ob­scure Yid­dishism un­til it got into Se­in­feld and ev­ery­one started say­ing it. But now no one uses it any­more.” By way of con­trast, he cites the suc­cess of ‘’86’, which orig­i­nated as code for ‘out of stock’ among Amer­i­can soft drink ven­dors in the ’20s. The fate of start-up-speak could go ei­ther way. “If this jar­gon is go­ing to make that per­ma­nent tran­si­tion,” says Adams, “it’s go­ing to be a gen­er­a­tion un­til we know.” The good news? Un­like sticks and stones, jar­gon never hurt any­one. No one was killed for point­ing out the ‘salient’ fea­tures of a tast­ing menu or fault­ing the ‘user ex­pe­ri­ence’ of a ski lift. At least, not yet. So let’s task our­selves with ef­fort­ing to adopt the fol­low­ing ac­tion item: use mod­er­a­tion. Con­sider this cau­tion­ary tale from a sec­tor where busi­ness jar­gon never works. “I know one en­tre­pre­neur whose new girl­friend dumped him be­cause he treated her as ‘another stake­holder to be man­aged’,” says Yang, who warns that mix­ing busi­nesss­peak and dat­ing is a recipe for dis­as­ter. “Us­ing start-up lingo is the ro­man­tic equiv­a­lent of wear­ing a Blue­tooth head­set,” he notes. “It tells ev­ery­one you’re on and turns off more peo­ple than it at­tracts.” n

“US­ING START-UP LINGO IS THE RO­MAN­TIC EQUIV­A­LENT OF WEAR­ING A BLUE­TOOTH HEAD­SET.”

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