I’m mixing metaphors, but many communicators in the U.S. (Sorry, I don’t get to read Der Spiegel or Paris Match), are getting out of hand – and way over the top – with word inflation.
If every product change or new idea is amazing, epic, and disruptive, what happens when something really significant takes place? Yes, iTunes truly disrupted the music business, which is still trying to figure out how to respond. And yes, Amazon and e-books truly disrupted the book industry. But really, how often do these kinds of revolutions come along?
That’s not stopping marketers and publicists. Today, every business conference has a line-up of speakers promising to show business leaders and entrepreneurs how to develop “disruptive innovation” in their markets. Come on!
The fact is, most innovation is incremental – a car with a new GPS system, a new drug with fewer side effects, a snack with no trans fats. These are good things. And there are strong word choices to express how important they are.
In the public sphere, we also go too far by describing people and events as amazing and iconic, and we describe squeaky voiced 20-year old pop singers as divas. If we dig a little, I’m sure we can find complimentary words that are a little more down to earth.
Just look at the definitions of some of these words and you’ll see what I mean:
Amazing: Causing wonder and astonishment. Is the food at that great taco place really astonishing and a cause of wonder, or is it just delicious?
Iconic: Having the characteristics of an icon – a symbol of a belief, nation, community, or cultural movement. Gandhi, yes. Donald Trump, no.
Diva: From the Latin for “goddess.” A highly distinguished female singer; prima donna. Aretha Franklin, yes! Beyonce’, maybe. Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus, not so much.
Epic: Heroic; majestic; impressively great. An episode in which heroic deeds are performed or attempted. In our culture, we’ve gone from fabulous, to excellent to awesome to epic. What’s next, God-like? Going into a burning building to save a child is epic. D-Day was epic. Winning a billion dollar political campaign or hitting a home run? I don’t think so.
Disruptive: Creating turmoil or disorder; interrupting the progress of a movement or meeting; breaking or splitting something apart. First of all, is this something we really want to do all the time, as hyped-up conference speakers seem to encourage? Of course not. We just like the way it sounds. Disruptive innovation is a lot cooler than garden-variety innovation. But the fact is, incremental innovation that improves our lives, our economy, our security, or our planet is plenty good, and there are lots of beautiful adjectives and metaphors to describe it.
So, communicators, be careful. Describe great advances boldly and creatively, but keep it real. Because the next time you’re really faced with amazing, epic, disruptive innovation, you may not be able to find the right words.