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The A-Z Modern Jargon for Business Innovation

Business innovation managers and startup entrepreneurs beware, the following 26 pieces of jargon are here with us to stay. Enjoy.

My first experience of business jargon was back in the early 1990s, where I was asked to run an idea up the flagpole, to see who would salute it’. After all, we were looking for windows of opportunity.

So, here is a fantastic A-Z of modern business jargon, readily available for all corporate innovation programmes.

Armchair general

A colleague or client who perpetually finds fault in projects, despite having little experience in the field.

In meeting after meeting, this smart-alec will sit there picking faults in the projects you’re working on. Fond of statements such as: “Well, if you’d have listened to me.” Their input and experience in the field often amounts to not much at all. There are ways of dealing with this kind of co-worker, though – you can start by trying to understand what might be behind their behaviour (hint: it could be difficulty adapting to your way of doing things, as much as the other way round).


A form of open-minded brainstorming.

The proponents of “blue-sky thinking” believe creativity should have no limits, just like empty, cloud-free skies. They all hope by harnessing their inner Picasso, a light-bulb flash of inspiration for their business will emerge. The second-most hated piece of workplace jargon according to a 2017 poll.


The act of disseminating information to your colleagues.

In plain English? This essentially means “to convey” or “to speak”. It often crops up in the titles of performance management seminars (“Align your business by cascading your performance objectives”).

Deep dive

An exhaustive, in-depth analysis.

This nautical-sounding metaphor was hatched by a US investment bank and simply means “look at in detail”. It makes poring over a spreadsheet seem like a herculean task akin to Jacques Cousteau plumbing the murky depths of the Mariana trench.

Elephant curve

A chart/graph that looks like an elephant’s head and trunk.

The so-called “hottest chart in economics right now”, the elephant curve (or chart) was plotted by former World Bank economist Branko Milanović in 2012 and demonstrates world income growth between 1988-2008. If you squint hard enough, a bit like those 1990s magic eye posters, you might see something resembling a raised elephant’s trunk. (Or the letter “S” on its side.)


Fixed-mobile convergence.

Fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) is the trend towards seamless connectivity between fixed and wireless telecommunications networks. The term also describes any physical network that allows cellular telephone sets to function smoothly with the fixed network infrastructure.


Investor speak for a high-growth company.

Coined by economist David Birch in the late 1970s, it describes those high-growth companies with revenues growing at least 20% annually, for four years or more (ie “leaping” like a gazelle). These bestial buzzwords have found a home in Silicon Valley. See also: unicorns (companies valued at more than $1bn) and decacorns (firms valued at $10bn+).


Crypto-currency acronym meaning “Holding on for dear life”.

Bitcoin might make millionaires within minutes, but many blockchain gold-rush devotees engage in the practice of Hodl (“holding on for dear life”), by clinging to their virtual cash as prices fluctuate around them. The term came from a 2013 post on the Bitcoin Talk forum, wherein GameKyubbi posted “I AM HODLING”. The typo stuck, since morphing into a verb and acronym.


Abbreviation for the “internet of things”.

The ecosystem/network that connects machines, devices and objects to the internet, turning them into “intelligent” assets that communicate with the world around them. Think your fridge signalling when it’s empty or your toothbrush telling you it’s time for a dental check.

Joined-up thinking

Thinking through and analysing a problem in an informed way.

Joined-up thinking – pondering problems while considering all the relevant facts – came to prominence in the late 1990s.


A Japanese management philosophy that roughly translates as “continuous self-improvement”.

Popularised by author/theorist Masaaki Imai in his 1986 book Kaizen: The key to Japan’s competitive success, it described the post-war success of firms such as Toyota. Today, it’s used by verbose business leaders when suggesting how employees can add oomph to their productivity. Jeff Bezos (Amazon), ex-England rugby captain Jonny Wilkinson and even footballer Joey Barton are all reported to be fans.

Low-hanging fruit

An easy-win business or easily solved problem.

This orchard-like metaphor refers to business opportunities that can be seized with little effort, or problems that are easily solved. It became bureaucratese in the 1990s, with its modern-day origins traced back to a 1968 Guardian article by poet P J Kavanagh.


Businesses that are so adroit at protecting their profits and market share from rival firms, they maintain a distinct competitive advantage.

It was the “Sage of Omaha” Warren Buffett who popularised the “moat” concept. The multibillionaire (and pal of Bono) is a perennial investor in “economic moat” companies, that he believes can generate success by building barriers to prevent competitors from making inroads into their market.


A Canadian unicorn. Or, more specifically, those Canuck tech firms valued at C$1bn or more.

Named after the mysterious, mono-tusked whales that inhabit its Arctic waters, a narwhal refers to Canadian tech firms valued at C$1bn or more. Examples include social media management platform Hootsuite and e-commerce platform Shopify. Chat tool Slack was previously a narwhal until it moved to San Francisco and became a unicorn. Confused? See “gazelle”.

Ostrich effect

The syndrome whereby investors avoid risky financial situations by pretending they don’t exist.

Describes a heads-buried-in-the-sand stance (apparently something ostriches never do – they’re actually stooping to eat sand), adopted by businesses that ignore gloomy financial information. First used in business by Galai & Sade in 2006.

Paradigm shift

A fundamental change in approach for a business/firm or set of values.

Made famous in Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the phrase “paradigm shift” has been oft-abused in the past five decades, and can mean everything from the transition in worldview from Newtonian gravity to Einsteinian general relativity (as mentioned in Kuhn’s tome), to companies that want to step up their marketing by adding some emojis to their Facebook feed.

Quick win

A guaranteed business success usually achieved within a short time frame.

A quick win is an investment that delivers success shortly after the project begins. These are usually easy to implement low-risk ventures, which require minimal expenditure and (once achieved) a degree of back-slapping smugness. See also “low-hanging fruit”.

Root and branch review

Sweeping reforms, or a radical analysis of an organisation conducted with forensic-like rigour.

A thorough shake-up of an organisation from bottom to the top, the term has been used to describe overhauls of politician expenses, company governance and postmortem analyses of why England floundered in the World Cup (again). The horticultural-invoking phrase was first used when a petition was presented to England’s Long Parliament in 1640, calling on the country to abolish episcopacy from the “roots” and in all its “branches”.

Strategic staircase

Business plan. It’s as simple as that.

“Business plan” hasn’t vanished from executive vernacular just yet, but it’s been rebranded. With the “staircase” addendum, the humble business plan is given a frisson of upwardly mobile, but frankly unnecessary, agility.

Touch base offline

To meet up and talk about something face-to-face.

Touch base is an idiom derived from American baseball. In the business world, it means to establish or renew contact with someone, with the “offline” element emphasising the face-to-face human rapport lacking in calls and emails.


Unified Communications.

Telecoms term referring to the suite of tech services that allow businesses to adopt flexible working methods and practices for employees. Think tech that allows you to work from anywhere, such as mobile, video conferencing, instant messaging and document-sharing.


Voice over Internet Protocol.

Voip is an innovative technology that allows you to make and receive telephone calls over the internet instead of your regular telephone service.

Wallpaper a meeting

To fill a meeting with supporters.

To wallpaper a meeting means occupying a conference room with people who sycophantically agree with your standpoint. An example of bad governance resulting in a sticky end (sorry!) for any company that employs it.


A currency that trades in markets outside of its country of issue.

A currency that is used outside of its domestic border. A bit like that time you holidayed in Nicaragua and all the vendors wanted to be paid in US dollars rather than the native currency.


Financier lingo meaning “the expected income from a bond”.

Traditionally, yield was a verb, meaning to “relinquish”, “admit defeat” or to “submit”. However, in recent years, it’s been used as a noun, especially in finance, where it’s roughly decoded as the anticipated revenue from a bond or other holding.

Zombie project

A project that refuses to die, no matter how many times people try to kill it.

Those company projects that keep shuffling along like the walking dead, while sucking company resources. Nearly impossible to terminate, unless you wave some garlic in their face. Oh hang on, that’s vampires, isn’t it?

This article is taken from the Guardian Labs blog piece, here.

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