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The Innovation of Words

        posted by , March 12, 2013

Business has a limited vocabulary.

In business situations, people tend to be careful with their choice of words. So careful, that business vocabularies tend to be repetitive and unimaginative.

People fear that word choice will fuel criticism.

The reason that bland business words such as "effective" and "strategic" are popular is that they are almost impossible to criticize. When you use more specific adjectives such as "fast" and "fearless" your ideas are more open to criticism.

Vocabulary Criticism: The Evolution of Simple

Simple has always been one of my favorite business words. It's useful for both strategy and design.

When I first began my career, I used "simple" a great deal. This often exposed me to criticism.

In the late 1990s, keeping it simple wasn't the popular business philosophy it is today. People thought of "simple" as analogous to "stupid" (e.g. simple minded).

At the time, marketing was about packing as many features as you can into your products. Whenever, I'd use the word "simplify" ... I'd face brutal criticism.

By the mid-2000s, websites and mobile devices with simple user interfaces had dominated markets. Simple is now a perfectly acceptable word to use in product development circles.

Today's crazy-sounding word is tomorrow's innovation.


The problem with using safe, standard, repetitive vocabularies is that they restrict your ability to innovate. People think with words. When your words are limited — so are your thoughts.

Choosing a wider business vocabulary helps you innovate.


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