We need a more blue-sky approach to four-dimensional incremental capability – The Origins of Corporate Jargon

In business, we are always looking for new ways to communicate. This takes the form of language that is used to build or cement relationships and also to convey concepts and ideas. However, often is the case that a well hatched phrase will take on a life of its own once released in the wild and many years later will still be stalking around the business place like some Frankensteinian creation that just refuses to die.

Like many, I am not adverse to new terms and expressions. However, I am adverse to old terms and expressions that get wantonly recycled by those looking for a meaningful way to plug a gap in a business conversation. Corporate jargon is far too often used to inflate the importance of things in an attempt to make the user appear more qualified. While the intention may be sincere the reality is a hackneyed cliché that will make a significant percentage of the room silently groan.

While travelling on the tube recently I overheard a conversation between a couple of eager players in the technology game – actually, they were talking so loudly I couldn’t have avoided overhearing even if I had wanted to. Three times in that conversation I heard the term ‘content is king’ and twice I scowled at the mention of ‘thinking outside of the box’. Rather than reproach them for their lack of imagination, instead I pondered the origins of these well worn expressions…

“Content is King”
It was actually Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, who launched the phrase on an unsuspecting corporate world in 1996 when he penned an essay of the same title which was posted on the Microsoft website. Note the year and note the fact that it was ‘an essay’. Of course fast forward 20 years and it would probably be a mere blog post that would drown in the sea of content knocked out across the web on an hourly basis. However, back then, web content was the new pretender and such an essay demanded much more of our attention. In the process, those 3 words stuck… The richest man in the world did display vision with his prediction, writing, ‘Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.’

“Think Outside the Box”
If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard this phrase… A particular favourite for many a manager who lacks one iota of creativity but is desperate to mask the fact, this phrase has been claimed by many over the years as their own. I will not cast my vote for any candidate in particular, but I was intrigued to discover that ‘the box’ in question comes from a nine dot puzzle first featured in Sam Loyd’s Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles, Tricks, and Conundrums (With Answers), published in 1914. Requiring 4 straight lines to connect the dots required you to think outside this particular box! I shall leave you to flaunt your creativity by attempting the puzzle yourself!

If Sam Loyd ‘the Puzzle King’ had earned a penny for every time his box has been invoked in the world of business, he would probably have died as rich as the man who coined the phrase ‘content is king’…

Luan de Burgh

March 2017

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.