Top 10 Corporate Clichés


Are you guilty of using either one or all of these corporate clichés? I have encountered a few of these at work even though I work in a more relaxed casual environment. Working closely with our company’s marketing team, we do tend to use words such as optimization, viral & thinking outside the box. Since I myself have my own Twitter account and saw the marketing potential for the company, I recently introduced the concept to the head of marketing and this was where the word “viral” came into play. Yes, we do have real 9-5 jobs….I am the Creative Coordinator for a local designer’s website and marketing team.

Here are the Top 10 Corporate Clichés you may have come across:

10. Viral
We probably all owe the Star Wars Kid, Leeroy Jenkins and Tay Zonday our thanks for giving us a good laugh. However, because of their viral videos, they’ve also created an unfortunate side effect in the corporate word, which is the compulsion for every company to want to “go viral.” While “viral” was initially co-opted to describe the way funny homemade videos were sent from one person to the next, the expression in the corporate world now describes any desire to spread an idea, period. “Good idea. This needs to go viral throughout the company!” No one is immune.

9. Optimization
As is the case with many of our corporate clichés, you can blame this one on IT. Initially used to describe the process of modifying a system to make it more efficient or to use less resources, it easily translated over to the corporate world where it’s used as a catch-all to describe how to improve anything from meetings to personal time management. Its most irritating use is its latest starring role as a positive term to explain why employees are being laid off: “To help optimize efficiencies for the company’s bottom line, 200 employees have been offered alternative plans.”

8. Shoulder to shoulder
The origin of this meaningless corporate cliché can be drawn to one of the corporate world’s biggest sources for metaphors: warfare. “Shoulder to shoulder” is traditionally said in the context of “troops standing shoulder to shoulder,” but now it means any example of corporate camaraderie. If a group is being inflexible, “they’re really standing shoulder to shoulder on this one.” Or just like a coach inspiring his team, a manager will kick off a project with: “Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder on this one.” Of course, if this corporate cliché makes you cringe, you may not be as inclined to take your manager up on the offer.

7. Ideation
How do you generate an idea? You would probably say you think — but the corporate world would prefer that you “engage in ideation.” Born from the brains of management consultants who used to describe the process of brainstorming or just simply coming up with an idea for a project, “ideation” now regularly pops up in any department involved with new ideas. “I’m still not convinced that CleanSqueak is the name for our bar of soap. I need more ideation time from you.” If the sound of this corporate cliché makes you want to punch something, just focus on ideation — you may be thinking too much.

6. Knowledge acquisition
Largely used in an academic context, the term “knowledge acquisition” soon entered the corporate dictionary in contexts like this: “We require knowledge acquisition before we can proceed with this sell-through potential.” While anyone can easily say, “We need to learn this before we do this,” by replacing that with “knowledge acquisition” a manager might instantly cast the impression he is intellectually sharp and a wise leader. However, if you’ve sat through enough meetings with the same manager, you’ve probably heard it enough to acquire your own knowledge that “knowledge acquisition” is a corporate cliché.
5. Brain dump
This corporate cliché has a shady past. It was once used to describe the process of someone taking an illegal snapshot of an IT certification exam. Now, brain dumps are used to describe any exchange of information between coworkers. Since office workers exchange information as regularly as they breathe, any expression used to describe this banal activity is inherently absurd.

4. Paradigm
Technically defined as a framework for thinking about or seeing something, “paradigm” has earned its place as one of the classic meaningless corporate clichés. At first sight, and even at first listen, it can sound like a sci-fi term, possibly related to time travel. However, in a corporate boardroom it’s usually invoked to signify a revolutionary way of doing something or approaching something — “Twitter rewrites the rules. It’s a whole new paradigm.” The most egregious way of using “paradigm” is as a synonym for “thing.” For example: “We need to come up with a new paradigm.”

3. Going forward
If you start an office pool to count the most-used corporate cliché, we recommend you put your money on “going forward.” It’ll probably win it for you by a landslide. Used to replace the expression “from now on” with something that sounds more action-oriented, “going forward” is a classic corporate cliché that doesn’t describe anything. Case in point: When asked about his future as England’s soccer captain, David Beckham replied: “Going forward, who knows?”
This translates as, “Who knows?” Going forward, consider that office pool — it could win you a lot of money.

2. Synergy
What could sound like the name of a high-powered energy drink or a kid’s action figure is a normal word that means the cooperative action of two or more things working for a positive outcome. Often it’s used to describe two drugs working together to help someone. However, for a corporate world filled with mergers and departments, the metaphor of two units working to a common goal proved too irresistible. So, now instead of your boss saying: “Our departments need to work together,” he says: “Our departments need to improve our synergies,” which suddenly makes your annual report project sound like you’re working on a NASA shuttle.

1. Thinking outside the box
This corporate cliché can be described this way: Your company is a box. You are in that box, but your company requires you to come up with ideas without using anything found inside the box. Confused? Don’t fret, management consultants came up with another classic corporate cliché to inspire you. Just think outside the box! This expression has now come to describe really any opportunity for a group or individual to think extra hard on something. Thanks to such widespread use, this corporate cliché may soon not be enough. Be prepared — can you think outside the circle?

  • Jason C-K

    I am so guilty of using “going forward” on a regular basis when I am leading my teams. I can’t help it, it just always slips out!

    (“Feedback” is another huge one, as well as “bandwidth”…)

  • Viral, optimization & Social Networking have become regular terms in my office lately.

  • Jason C-K

    My office as well… it doesn’t help that I work on a marketing team. We love our buzzwords: SEO (basically, “optimization”), Calls To Action, Top of Mind… it goes on and on.

    And of course, everything we do is somehow a “campaign”…!

  • Dsx

    Great post! I work in a restaurant and still hear “Moving Forward” at least once a day and have laughed about it to myself for some time. I am glad to hear that other people can appreciate the idiocy behind a lot of these new corporate terminologies, even if you don’t work in an office setting. I can’t remember right now but there’s a movie or tv show where they make so much fun of “synergy” , it was hilarious!

  • Ha ha..I know exactly what movie you are talking about. It’s the one with Topher Grace called “In Good Company” which funny enough I just watched last week. He had this whole schpeel about synergy in the boardroom.