NEW: Michael Schaper

At the end of the day, going forward, and to incentivise in a value-added granular way, jargon is not mission-critical to your tactical alignment paradigm.

Big words, big loss

Is it just me, or are we drowning each other in an ocean of catchphrases?

Why do so many people in public policy and academia, not to mention the corporate sector and management consulting fields, seem to think that highly complex terms signify a more intelligent mind?

It all started, I suspect, with the advent of the total quality and quality assurance movement. To most people, “quality” has a pretty simple basis: it’s the best possible product or service, at the best possible price.

But nothing’s that simple in jargon-land. “Quality”, in the formal sense, actually meant a system designed to formalise how and when things were done inside a business, with the intention of recording every step in how an item was produced.

While this helped reduce production-line errors, it meant that a mass-produced hamburger was now a quality item, simply because it was made to a pre-determined schedule, rather than being the best burger in town.

Have a look through any contemporary management magazine, and try to keep track of the phrases that hit you: benchmarking, soft skills, corporate re-engineering, cashburn, competitive analysis, de-hire, financial drag… the list goes on (in fact, you can find lots more at sites like JargonWatch).

Phrases like this serve a number of purposes. It makes simple, basic ideas look more complex – and therefore makes business management look like more of a science than it sometimes is.

It allows consultants to dress up old ideas and sell them as new ones, and it creates a constant sense of anxiety among entrepreneurs that they’re missing out on the latest, most vital breakthroughs in management thought.

I’m not sure if it actually helps anyone, though. A bit more plain English would probably go a long way to making things easier to understand. And if the name of the game is to encourage businesses to succeed, then shouldn’t we be talking about this in the simplest and clearest possible terms?


Professor Michael Schaper is the Dean of Murdoch University Business School, has been a business owner, run a community-based SME support agency, and was previously ACT Small Business Commissioner. His focus is that governments and the community understand the “big picture” – the policies and issues that affect all of the small business sector – so that entrepreneurs have the support they need to flourish.



For more Educated Observer blogs, click here.



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.