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MBA Dictionary, Part 2: Corporate and Academic Terms

Posted in Test Prep on August 25, 2011 by

In the second MBA Dictionary post, we cover 16 more corporate and academic terms you should know if you want to fit in in the boardroom and understand your CEO’s jokes. At the same time, make sure not to overuse them, or you’ll sound like a corporate-jargon junkie.

Whether you’re in the habit of using the terms on our list or not, you can develop some awareness of your communication patterns by thinking not only about the words you use at work but also about the words you use to describe your work to others.

1. Baked in [adj]


“Those factors are already baked into the model. If the projections aren’t accurate, why don’t we let these ideas marinate for awhile and check back next week?“

Verdict: We get it. “Baked” is more visceral than “included.” Use “marinate,” “baked” and “diced” in the same breath, however, and you’ll start getting quizzical looks.

2. Bandwidth [n]

The limit of your working capacity

“Ask Sam if he can hack it. I don’t have the bandwidth for another project right now.”

Verdict: Actually, a pretty cool tech metaphor (if you really think about it) but over-used to the point of cliche.

3. Boiling the ocean [v.]

Attempting a project that is overly ambitious.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel with this project. No need to boil the ocean. We just need a great mashup, and we’re good to go.”

Verdict: Kinda neat metaphor as long as you don’t use it for everything…. as sometimes happens when a new phrase catches your tongue’s fancy.

4. Build [n]

A version of something. Like “bandwidth,” a word from tech.

“Once you get those changes committed to the build, ping me…”

Verdict: One of those verbs obviously designed to make work seem more interesting. That boring report or powerpoint doesn’t sound half as dull when it’s described as a “build.”

5. Dovetail [v.]

To expand or to expand upon someone else’s idea (usually used in a discussion context).

“This thought leadership project will dovetail nicely with those infographics we’re releasing.”

Verdict: Just don’t use it every time you co-opt a colleague’s idea in discussion (“Let me dovetail that argument by suggesting that…”) Warning: There is bound to be some serious abuse of this term during your next group interview for that “management associate” position.

6. Hack (it) [v.]

To be able to do something; to do something well, with an element of improvisation; to do something in a clever, illegitimate way; to do something without instructions

A great definition from Urban Dictionary:

“To program a computer in a clever, virtuosic, and wizardly manner. Ordinary computer jockeys merely write programs; hacking is the domain of digital poets. Hacking is a subtle and arguably mystical art, equal parts wit and technical ability, that is rarely appreciated by non-hackers. A clever or elegant technical accomplishment, especially one with a playful or prankish bent. A clever routine in a computer program, especially one which uses tools for purposes other than those for which they were intended, might be considered a hack. Students at technical universities, such as MIT, are famous for performing elaborate hacks.”

Verdict: Gets seriously annoying when it’s applied to non-wizardly, non-elegant work. Or when used non-stop with regard to anything tech-related (as basically a catch-all tech verb/noun): “Ok hackers, let’s try to hack this on hack day… let’s prove that we can hack this.”

7. Hard stop [n]:


“Guys, we need a full hard stop on Friday at 4:30. So get us the specs now…”

Verdict: What’s wrong with “deadline”? The next time you say this, know that everyone wants to give you a hard slap.

8. Ideation [n.]

A portmanteau of “idea” and “creation”; the process surrounding ideas.

“Let’s crowdsource some of this product ideation. Could be a good marketing strategy. We’ll let consumers decide what product we release… and get some input on the packaging too.”

Verdict: This term comes with a warning label. If you use this in conjunction with “thought leadership” and “thinking outside the box,” you need a serious language detox.

9. Net-net [n.]

The orally communicated summary of an occurrence.

“I don’t have all day. Just give me the net-net of your meeting this morning.”

Verdict: Too cool to say “summary,” eh?

10. Optics [n.]


“The optics of this situation are not in our favor. But let’s hire a good PR rep and see if we can right this situation.”

Verdict: Sophisticated way of describing how people perceive you in a bad situation. Cool, but remember: all the fancy metaphors in the world can’t disguise the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about if you really don’t know.

11. Outside the box [adj.]

A creative or non-traditional way of thinking

“We’ll get some corporate training gurus in here to teach you how to think outside the box.”

Verdict: Ok maybe five/ten years ago.

12. Triangulate [v.]

To involve a third person in a discussion.

“The preso looks good to me, but let’s triangulate with Marcy in Sales. I’ll schedule a sync up for Thurs.”

Verdict: I can see the purpose of this (no other verb in the dictionary exists to express quite this thought). But if you find yourself saying the word, “quadrupulate,” it’s time to pick up a thesaurus.

13. Upside [n.]

Potential for gain.

“The stock has a lot of upside potential.”

Verdict: Again, forgivable at work, but don’t become one of those people who uses the word “upside” to describe pretty much everything in life (“How much upside do you see in this relationship?”).

14. Value proposition [n.]

A fancy way to say “what a product offers.”

Verdict: Okay — but if you’re not offering something particularly sophisticated, you’ll sound like you just learned the term yesterday… Also, if you’re in the habit of employing phrases that require three times as many syllables as necessary, consider picking up a copy of good old Strunk & White for a working manual on the merits of clear, hard, muscular phrasing.

15. Whiteboard [v.]

To work out ideas by writing them out on a whiteboard.

“Let’s whiteboard some of these ideas at the brown bag tomorrow.”

Verdict: A fantastic example of what is generally known as “verbing,” or the practice of transforming an annoying business noun into a verb.

16. Win-win [n.]

An arrangement which benefits both parties.

“With lower prices and faster deliveries, the new system is turning out to be a real win-win…”

Verdict: Anytime anyone uses this, you can be sure that the primary negotiator is trying to pull something over your head. Still, this is a good concept to grasp. Thinking about how you can construct win-win situations is a great way to solve problems and be entrepreneurial.