I typed the word ‘ideation’, and I didn’t shudder. For many it’s a non-word, jargon or even a buzzword.
In business, we have a fascination with mocking buzzwords (hands up who has idled away a compulsory seminar session by playing ‘Boardroom Bingo’?). And 12 minutes ago, I would have agreed. Until I wrote the word “ideation,” without a small sinking feeling in my gut, I questioned the reason for this buzzword and many others. But if this buzzword was useful, maybe not all buzzwords are bad?
The first time I saw ideation I thought, what a bastardisation of the English language. You can’t just make things up! As I speak the dialect of an American military brat, moved too many times, I’m frequently torn over the local pronunciation of certain words – is it “DAT-uh” or “DAY-tuh”? – but I’m fairly rigid about the words I choose to use.
But when it comes to business, many of us forget that English is a living, breathing language. It changes, it adapts, it even removes words from our lexicon. English in and of itself does not change, adapt, or forget – rather the societies and people who use the language influence such things. That’s because when we communicate, we need to explain what is being done, with what it is being done with, and how we are doing it; that can’t be done when language is not allowed to evolve with the world it is being used in.
Could you imagine how difficult it would be for a Victorian English speaker, of lower income, to explain what I am doing right now; an everyday activity for much of the western hemisphere. Typing on a keyboard connected to a computer, posting a blog to a social network site? And it’s only possible thanks to the relative miracle of electricity and the internet? Good luck with that one.
Disclaimer for my English Language experts – the existence of certain useful words may predate my example above, but the context of their use will have changed significantly over the years.
‘Ideation’ helped me reference the process gone through by people who are responsible for coming up with creative ideas – the type of people I come across regularly in my industry. I could have written “creation”, except that term is too broad and would include too many people.
Some words and phrases definitely fall into the BS buzzword category – different ways of saying the same thing, but with no added value. On the other hand, I see jargon as something that carries context, and value which may only be obvious to those familiar with the relevant industry.
The problem comes into effect when useful industry jargon, or a dialect if you will, goes mainstream and means everything and anything that it doesn’t. For example, content marketing means something to me, and to the whole full world it was the buzzword of 2015, and it just won’t die. The phrase content marketing has to now be repackaged to avoid talking business heads from selling ‘content marketing’ that is nothing more than running a LinkedIn Ad.
I’m not the first person to advocate calling a spade a spade – not an ‘earth relocation device’ – and there is definitely a case for vocabulary that differentiates. For example, if a surgeon were to be handed a Stanley knife instead of a scalpel when she’d simply asked for a ‘blade’, the tool in question would be functionally comparable, but unfit for the particular purpose.
As the world becomes more technologically advanced and previously drawn out processes are condensed into singular functions, lengthier acronyms and blended words will eek their way into common usage. It doesn’t that make them all inherently evil, but the key for marketers lies in knowing how and when to use them.
The old adage of “If you have to ask, then you’ll never know” is a good one to keep in mind when producing written communications. Using sophisticated terminology and jargon in the right way can act as a basic qualifier, demonstrating to your audience that you know your PaaS from your IPO.
If a person reading it doesn’t understand a certain term, then are they the one with the authority to take the action that would result in an ROI for that activity? Unlikely.
In all industries – not just tech – specificity has its place. That’s not to say that we should be sucked into misappropriating terms to make ourselves sound more on trend. It’s fair to say that ‘innovation’ is probably an overused term, but the result of true innovation is something new. There’s no denying that many new technologies, processes, practices, creations and behaviours will warrant their own original, or amalgamated terms.
But as far as everyday usage and conversation goes, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, right?