One of the perks of a career in technology and business is that you can tune into pretty much any conversation and know exactly what everyoneâs talking about. At least, thatâs what I used to think. Lately, you need a decoder ring to understand half of what some executives are saying. The jargon has become nearly incomprehensible.
Itâs not that your knowledge or experience is outdated, mind you. Theyâre just finding ever-more creative and confusing ways of expressing what should be simple concepts. Why, I have no idea. Iâve always thought that, if you want people to understand you, you should speak in terms they understand. But what do I know?
I used to wonder why I could never understand Bob Dylanâs lyrics until I realized thatâs just the way he talks. He probably thinks that way, too. In this excerpt from a 1966 Playboy interview, Dylan tries to explain how he got into rock-n-roll:
âCarelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I'm in a card game. Then I'm in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down.â
That goes on for quite a while. The house burns down three or four times. When he finally pauses, Playboy asks, âAnd thatâs how you became a rock-n-roll singer?â
âNo,â Dylan says, âThatâs how I got tuberculosis.â
See what I mean?
If you think that no executive or business leader could possibly be that confusing, think again.
Last year I was watching an interview with Julia Hartz, the marketing veep of Eventbrite, a site for buying and selling tickets to live events. The question on the table was, âHow much are Millennials into going out and doing stuff and what kind of revenue have you seen because of that?â Hereâs how she responded:
âAs you can see, Millennials are putting their share of wallet toward live experiences much more actually than material goods. [Eventbrite] is really empowering the masses to bring people together in live events,â she said. âAnd last year alone we had 1.7 million live events ticketed on the platform and so you see that connection and you see that share of wallet going towards these really important moments.â
And furthermore â¦ âSo you see this area of experientialism over materialism that really drives this need to connect,â said Hartz. âMillennials are sharing their live experiences online, which is driving social capital. So you know the selfie is the ultimate social capital these days, which is driving the promotion of live experiences. Itâs a very nice virtuous cycle.â
Translation: Millennials are spending more on events because itâs cool to Tweet about a concert, not a new coat.
Not to pick on Hartz, but in a separate interview, she answered, âHow do you make money?â by saying, âOur revenue stream is a small ticket fee â itâs 2.5% plus 99 cents â which really signals the democratization that Eventbrite has in the industry, because that is quite low.â
Translation: Itâs cheap and affordable â¦ I think.
When asked about going public, she said, âWeâve always used the IPO as an example of optionality.â
Translation: IPO is an option weâre considering.
The real question is, did words and phrases like âshare of wallet,â âexperientialism,â âempowering the masses,â âsocial capital,â âdemocratizationâ and âoptionalityâ help to get her point across or make her about as easy to understand as Dylan?
Incidentally, Hartz was recently promoted to CEO. Must have been her communication skills.
Look, every industry has its own business jargon, but savvy executives are either trained or intuitively know that, when theyâre talking to a broad audience, the goal is to simplify complex concepts â to communicate, not complicate. Lately, they seem to have that concept backwards.
Granted, language has always been a little like fashion. Colloquialisms come and go with the times. I guess that explains why corporations are now called âbrands,â customers are âusers,â self-employed workers are âsolopreneurs,â teamwork is âcollaboration,â debates are âconversations,â recruiting is âtalent acquisition,â management is âleadershipâ and my columns are lumped into a generic blob known as âcontent.â
But when a business news program becomes a murky stew of asymmetric risk, programmatic advertising, big data analytics, over-the-top streaming video, self-organizing companies, autonomous vehicles, smart everything, [fill in the blank] hacking, and lofty âchange the worldâ mission statements, something is not right.
Sometimes I wonder if vague terms like âtransparencyâ and âauthenticityâ have become so popular because nobody simply tells the straight truth about anything, anymore. Best to keep it nebulous. Which is ironic, if you think about it.
Maybe thatâs what this trend is really about. Maybe my assumptions are wrong. Perhaps some leaders make simple concepts sound complicated because they donât want to be understood. That would explain a lot.
Growing up, a friend had a plaque on his wall that said, âIf you canât dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull----.â Maybe not much has changed after all.