• Charlie Corbett

No, you're not innovative. You're lazy.

Companies are engaged today in what can only be described as the wholesale destruction of meaning.

They overwhelm us with dreary, overused platitudes that serve only to obscure, rather than make plain, the messages they are trying to communicate.

So why is it companies continue to hark on endlessly about their innovative solutions, unique insights, enhanced experiences and sustainable values, when surely they must know that people just switch off when they read or hear this kind of uninspiring cant?

The answer: lazy thinking. It is much easier to use off-the-shelf, pre-prepared platitudinous waffle – and assume that that makes you sound clever and engaged - than to think hard about original ways to get your message across. This linguistic laziness means that important messages – that need to be clearly articulated - have become saturated in the sickening treacle of dull platitude.

Here are just five repeat offenders:

Innovative: Top of my banned list. Name a company that doesn’t describe itself as innovative these days? The corporate world has become obsessed with innovation or, more accurately, with being seen to be innovative. Show your customers why you are interesting or different, don’t just tell them endlessly how gloriously innovative you are. Most companies that exist in this world are not actually innovative at all – they react and adapt to the innovations of others. Unless you really have invented the internet or the smart phone, splashing the word ‘innovative’ over all your marketing literature only goes to show one thing: you are painfully unoriginal. 

Insight: It is impossible to visit any corporate website, social media page or advertorial – in particular related to finance -without being inundated by ‘unique insights’ into everything. Ninety nine point nine percent of the time, these companies are offering you nothing more than an educated opinion – not much different to anyone else’s. But they dress it up as the elixir of insight. Just to make themselves sound a bit cleverer than everyone else. It has the opposite effect. A genuine insight tells you the true nature of a thing. It opens your mind to possibilities you had never considered before. No wonder these corporate apparatchiks have kidnapped the word to describe their run-of-the-mill research. Think about it: if every consultant, asset manager or bank is giving you ‘unique insights’ then, by definition, there can be no ‘unique insight’ at all.

Leverage: I found someone on LinkedIn the other day who charges companies hard cash to hire him to teach their employees how to, “leverage their personal impact to be a top communicator”. What does that even mean? This is someone who has set up a business specifically to help people become clear and forceful speakers, but then advertises his course in a way that is utterly meaningless. And top of that meaningless list is the word ‘leverage’. Anyone who tells you they are going ‘to leverage’ their skills, or leverage anything at all for that matter, needs to be scrupulously avoided.

Sustainability (or its ugly sister, unsustainability): "Sustainability leaders will adopt a truly transformative ambition," said a very large and influential player in the financial markets on its social media channels the other day. But what has this sentence told you of any substance? Any important message the company wanted to get across about its green credentials – or doing profitable business in harmony with the natural world - is drowned in buzzwords and waffle. Like innovation, name a company today that does not describe itself as sustainable. It’s simply box ticking.

Content: The BBC used to make heart-stopping drama, thought-provoking documentaries and hilarious comedy. These days, in its own words, it ‘creates content’. In the same vein, Orwell wrote piercing social and political insights, Hitchcock made terrifying films and Van Gogh painted mind-altering sunflowers. They did not create content. But this word, content, has become a catch-all term across all the media. It kills all creativity it comes into contact with.

So how should you write and speak if you want genuinely to engage people and stand out from the crowd? Rule number one: ignore all buzzwords and management speak, as outlined above, and just be yourself. Speak in a way that is human – like you would to your friends or family. Be thoughtful and intelligent. And find new ways to articulate old ideas. Above all, care about your audience.

Think hard about who they are and what could interest them. And then make it as easy as possible for them to understand you.  

This article appeared in edited form in CityAM on Tuesday 19th March:

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