Silicon Valley's Least Favorite Buzzwords

With its endless stream of investor pitches and company pep talks, Silicon Valley is overrun with meaningless buzzwords.

learn more about Milan Kordestani

By Milan Kordestani

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Buzzwords often tap into the cultural zeitgeist of a time, connecting to trends or new technologies that feel especially relevant for the moment. They are popular, and in that sense powerful, even if there's not a strong connection between their usefulness and their popularity. Even worse, many buzzwords become cliche and over-used, losing their initial power and becoming downright annoying. With its endless stream of investor pitches and company pep talks, Silicon Valley is overrun with buzzwords.

Working in tech forces you to stay one step ahead of the game and, as a writer, you've got to know when a word falls out of favor. When I'm not writing or answering emails, I spend most of my days in meetings talking and listening about business and tech, which forces me to take notice of the ebb and flow of popular jargon. Importantly, I notice which words people are not using anymore or actively avoiding for various reasons.

My own desire to understand which buzzwords to banish led me to collect Silicon Valley's least favorite buzzwords. After speaking with a few dozen entrepreneurs, technologists, writers and venture capitalists, I found that there are four words that came up the most when I asked the question: What are your least favorite startup-related buzzwords?

Related: Stop Calling It a Side Hustle

'Platform'

I remember being in college describing an app I was working on to my father. He interrupted me, saying, "Don't call it a platform. If everything is a platform, then the word is meaningless. Be specific with what your product is."

Everywhere you look, a startup is describing itself as some kind of "platform." Thanks to its ubiquitousness, nobody really knows what the word means anymore. If you tell me that you run a mental-health platform, I will have a vague idea of what you are talking about, but I will have no idea of what your company actually does.

The reason for this confusion is that "platform" is increasingly misused in the tech industry and the business world at large. I would venture to say that 90% of the entrepreneurs who describe their companies or products as "platforms" are just using it as a catch-all term. Today, the term is as vague as it is in the physical world; almost any structure can be a platform, and the same is true in tech.

'Synergy'

Some would argue that "synergy" was already a disliked relic of the 1990s, but it has made a comeback in recent years. It's effectively just the buzzword equivalent of collaboration, teamwork, a suggestion of partnership or, for the academics and philosophers among us, a dialectic. However, like a lot of business jargon, it is meant to combine the meanings of multiple words into a quick, easily digestible, attention-grabbing term. Unfortunately, when people throw synergy into conversations without it really enhancing their message in any substantive way, it comes off as a vague word used lazily to express an interest in collaboration.

'Paradigm'

Though all four of these words are not well-liked in Silicon Valley, "paradigm" might be the most hated. It is usually used in the context of a "paradigm shift," indicating that a company, product, service or individual can bring about widespread change to existing processes, beliefs or systems. "Paradigm" became the dramatic buzzword that enthusiastic entrepreneurs and techies have used (and overused) to describe the capacity to bring about Earth-shattering improvements to things that we have come to accept as normal because most early builders believe they'll be able to change the world.

The vitriol toward "paradigm" and "paradigm shift'' likely stems from their association with hyperbole. The truth is that most businesses, products, services or individuals will not drastically change life as we know it.

The next time someone comes to you to talk about a company that wants to create a "paradigm shift" in their industry, ask them to get specific. Execution is everything, and paradigm shifters are few and far between.

'Disruption'

Among the professionals with whom I spoke, "paradigm shift" and "disruption" were often lumped together as the most disliked terms. This is because they often point to similar intentions. If someone wants you to believe that their company is going to fundamentally change the way something is done and completely outsmart the giants of the tech industry, that's fine and well, but you should aim to use descriptors that leave the listening party thinking you have a game-changer. As the builder, it's best to not actually say it yourself.

When you start to hear or read this term in every pitch, PR campaign or even staff meeting, it begins to lose its luster. Not everything can be a disruption to the status quo. There's a reason the status quo exists — because it is notoriously difficult to disrupt. For every real disruption in Silicon Valley (and the tech industry more broadly), there are a thousand wannabe disruptors waiting in the wings.

Related: Tech Giants Are Failing to Inspire Employee Trust. Here Are 4 Ways Your Company Can Do Better.

In a culture where a new billion-dollar idea is born weekly, it can be easy to get overzealous with empty words that are meant to entice, excite and grab people's attention. Buzzwords are an addicting shortcut, but after a while, hearing the same catchphrases in every pitch, team meeting or interview can get really old.

Sounding out of touch and out of date is a sure-fire way to lose credibility in the constantly evolving world of tech. Be specific with what you're saying, and be intentional with the words you choose.

Milan Kordestani

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Founder & Entrepreneur

Milan Kordestani is a 22-year-old social entrepreneur who's currently the CEO and founder of three active companies: The Doe, a digital publication for anonymous narratives; Guin Records, a purpose-driven record label; and Dormzi, an online marketplace powered by college students.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Have More Responsibilities at Work, But No Pay Bump? Use This Script to Get the Raise You Deserve.
Black and Asian Founders Face Opposition at All Levels — Here's Why That Has to Change
Business News

'This Made Me Physically Recoil From My Phone': Lingerie Brand Apologizes For 'Creepy' Ad Referencing Ryan Reynolds and Bras

Online lingerie retailer Harper Wilde is under fire for a bizarre sponsored post it has since pulled from Instagram.

Thought Leaders

5 Small Daily Habits Self-Made Millionaires Use to Grow Their Wealth

We've all seen what self-made millionaires look like on TV, but it's a lot more subtle than that. Brian Tracy researched what small daily habits these successful entrepreneurs adopted on their journey from rags to riches.

Living

Invest in Yourself: 10 Things Every Working Woman Should Do This Year

When striving for success, it is easy to forget about your mental and physical health. But without health, you cannot fully succeed. Follow these ten lifestyle strategies for success in your personal and professional life.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas To Start Right Now

To start one of these home-based businesses, you don't need a lot of funding -- just energy, passion and the drive to succeed.