The Tyranny of Buzzwords

Hype and jargon can do real damage.

Everyone is a solutions expert nowadays, everyone almost an architect. What puts the wind in the sails of a charlatan is buzzwords. There is a great seduction to them. Of course he knows what Cloud is, or Big Data, or Internet of Things, or Industry 4.0. Confident of his keen insight and wisdom, he expounds his seminal discernment of each such leap of mankind. He gets lyrical with similes and metaphors. He gets poetic in praise. He looks for your impressed eyes to widen, your jaw to drop and your wonderstruck nods. Disappoint him and he gets miffed and does retakes, as for a child. Feels like he’s saying, ‘See, look, don’t you get it? Come on, it’s right there in front of your eyes, you imbecile’. Or if you show yourself an even bigger mountebank you get a knowing welcome to the club.

Of course, the problem is that these buzzwords are like will-o’-the-wisps. They hide a lot more than they reveal. In fact everything vital, like the proverbial bikini. Architects who deliver working solutions know the reality beneath the blithe blurbs. There are limitations. There is boring yet important detail. There is nuance. There is a lot to learn and understand. They’re usually not life-changing. Their applications are a lot fewer than the buzz suggests. And they’re often old wine in a new bottle.

Top managers of companies love these fads. So do their marketing and sales chiefs. They see big dollar signs around them. Killer new lines of business. Two figure growth and profit. Market share. And they try to sell the buzz, mostly without anyone really needing whatever it is. It takes a while for the harsh reality to sink in, for the golden goose to lose its shine. They cannot understand it. It was the greatest thing since we went to the moon, right? But it takes a while. Oh well, on to the next Billion Dollar Baby.

Alas, there is collateral damage. For the solution architect. This sceptic, cynic, this wry realist, has to work on many proposals doomed to failure. Then some foolish customer signs up and she ends up having to work out a real solution. Often it is a misfit, complicated or just plain wrong, expensive and slow. Resist and get branded as unsupportive of company strategy. Explain and feel like she’s digging her own grave. Or she goes with the flow, bye-bye integrity.

She spends a slow eighteen to twenty-four precious months of her life crunched between the customer and her own organization.

There have been attempts to tackle this problem. For example, the Gartner Hype Curve. But guess what, the Hype Curve itself has become a fad. If your company’s current blue-eyed child is on it, somewhere, anywhere, then it’s fine, you are in the game. You first admit with fake humility where you are, then try to sell it anyway. Talk about head in the sand.

There you are, that’s my grouse for the day. Well off my chest.


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