The world of business is characterized by a language all its own. Whether you’re looking to improve your own communication style, understand others better, or see a familiar world through a new lens, follow this series of posts for a playful look at some popular MBA words.
For our first MBA Dictionary post, here are 15 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.
1. Bleeding-edge [adj.]
Even newer and more hyped than “cutting edge”; potentially risky or dangerous
Ex: “Our developers released bleeding edge versions of the software, so we could get some quick feedback and jump-start the process of iterative development…”
Abuse potential: 4 out of 5. Don’t use twice in the same paragraph or your prose will start feeling blunt-edged.
2. Buzz [n.]
Hype; word-of-mouth advertising; excited discussion in the media.
Ex: “The marketing team was able to generate some good buzz with a few celebrity brand ambassadors.”
Abuse potential: 5 out of 5. One of the most annoying words out there if used in excess.
3. Cannibalize [v.]
When the launch of one product diminishes the market share of another product from the same company or product line
Ex: “If we extend the product line, we may cannibalize the potential of our current offerings…”
Abuse potential: 3 out of 5.
4. Core competency [n.]
Something that is an essential part of a company’s brand or identity; something that distinguishes the company from others in its category
Ex: “If my job function isn’t part of the company’s core competency, does that weaken my application profile?”
Abuse potential: 4 out of 5. Sprinkle this throughout your b-school app, and you’ll sound like you just learned the phrase yesterday.
5. Cross-pollination [n.]
Something that occurs when people of different talents or backgrounds interact in a professional setting.
Ex: “I chose to work at the startup because I found there was ample opportunity for cross-pollination… The company was organized into small teams; each team had at least one person from marketing, finance, and engineering…”
Abuse potential: 3 out of 5. No, you cannot cross-pollinate yourself.
6. Evangelize [v.]
To promote a product or offering with intense enthusiasm
Ex: “We need to appoint someone to evangelize the new product and act as a sort of community manager on the forums.”
Abuse potential: 2 out of 5.
7. Gain traction [v.]
To increase market share
Ex: “To help our brand gain some traction in a new demographic, I launched a new campaign using an aggressive social media strategy.”
Abuse potential: 1 out of 5. If you catch yourself using this phrase in the realm of dating and relationships, consider refreshing your word bank or leaving the Blackberry at home when you go out…
8. Low-hanging fruit [n.]
Something that’s easily accomplished or easy to acquire
Ex: “Let’s aim for all the low-hanging fruit first… We need to scale this operation quickly.”
Abuse potential: 2 out of 5. No, this is not an original metaphor.
9. Move the needle [v.]
To make a change that can be detected
Ex: “The aim of your social media work is to help move the needle a bit…”
Abuse potential: 2 out of 5. If you catch yourself saying this at least once an hour, it may be time to pick up a thesaurus or make your way through some some vocab flashcards.
10. Operationalize [v.]
To do (seriously?)
Ex: “As a third-year associate, it was my job to operationalize our process…”
Abuse potential: 5 out of 5. This term comes to you with a fat warning label. Use sparingly.
11. Startup bug [n.]
The desire to work for startups
Ex: “Then I caught the startup bug and worked for several tech companies before deciding that I needed to get an MBA to move forward with my career.”
Abuse potential: 5 out of 5. Another phrase that comes with a big warning label; use this and you risk sounding like a neophyte.
12. SWOT analysis [n.]
an acronym that means “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats Analysis”
Ex: “As a team, we performed a SWOT analysis and determined that we had to reposition our brand.”
Abuse potential: 1 out of 5. Just don’t stud your speech with other acronyms like this one.
13. Take ownership [n.]
The act of owning a project and being responsible for its success
Ex: “You need to demonstrate that you really took ownership of the project and that you were personally accountable for the team effort.”
Abuse potential: 3 out of 5. Don’t use this to describe something over which no ownership can be taken. Ex: “I really took ownership of cleaning up the office after the party.”
14. Thought-leadership [n.]
Ex: “In order to demonstrate our thought leadership, we released a series of white-papers and infographics.”
Abuse potential: 2 out of 5. Just don’t call everything “thought-leadership” or others will stifle giggles when you speak.
15. Social enterprise [n.]
An organization that strives to improve society in some way
Ex: “From my extracurricular non-profit work, I discovered that I have a true passion for social enterprise.”
Abuse potential: 3 out of 5. Make sure your passions don’t sound half-baked-trendy. A good test? If you use the phrase “social enterprise” twice in the same paragraph without mentioning what exactly it is that you do or plan to do, you’re veering towards dangerous territory.
If the example sentence above could have been taken from your admissions essay, be sure to check out this article: Brain Drain of MBA Students to Social Enterprise.