The 3 Most Dangerous Words in Business

In every industry, the struggle is real when it comes to navigating a veritable sea of buzzwords, jargon, and mixed metaphors in the workplace.

There is meaning to be found in the trends among these phrases. Having worked among businesses that have succeeded through economic and technological change, as well as those that haven’t, there are three words that have risen to the top as a harbinger of failed products, campaigns, and businesses.

Next time a team is sizing up a new opportunity, beware of these words during the discussion:


Yes, there was a time that we needed the word digital to describe systems that weren’t analog. Sending an e-mail versus writing a letter is a great example. However, its been over two decades since we needed to make that distinction and people in meetings are still creating a division between tactics, products, or ideas using the word “digital.” The truth is, everything is digital. Even a magazine or newspaper, the most analog possible communication method, is now but an outcome of an utterly digital process.

Eliminating the word digital from your workplace vocabulary assures that all options receive serious consideration.


Traditional feels good. It’s “the way we’ve always done it” which makes traditional feel tried and true. But traditions that are strictly adhered to are straight-up killers. Even our greatest health risks, heart disease and diabetes, are largely the result of the dark side of tradition; which is, the tradition of eating certain things at certain times that feels good to our brain, but are poison to our bodies.

In marketing, people often use the phrase “traditional” to describe tactics that have been done before and those that haven’t. This type of mentality is extremely dangerous because tradition is being wielded to stop change, or worse, to stop change in the name of intelligence.


People who use the phrase disruption are also just as likely to use the phrasing the [blank] of [blank], as in, “In 2016, we are going to be the Uber of exterior paints.” The metaphor is used hyperbolically to add an urgent window dressing in organizations in which most change comes as an incremental step to tradition.

Disruption, in reality, is an outcome. Disruption happens when people don’t care about whether things are “digital” or “traditional” by design and are, instead, focused on helping people take specific actions that makes their life easier.

The person who uses disruption in a conversation is typically the person who is most likely to be disrupted, because he refuses to learn how new systems that solve people’s problems are successfully created and deployed.

It’s all about adaptation

What allows us to thrive and separates us from other species is simple: adaptation. Gorillas and dolphins are both smart, they can both learn new things. But we’re better and faster at understanding what will make us stronger or weaker and assessing what has a positive impact on survival.

It doesn’t take a deep strategic exercise to know whether Instagram or Snapchat is a good bet or a bad one. Knowing the audience that matters to the brand makes that decision immediately apparent.

Many call adaptive brands “early adopters” or “Savvy,” but the truth is that they saw people coming together, or needing to come together, and just joined in, because adaptation is instinctual.

In the meeting rooms of every other slowly dying entity are conversations led by people mistaking adaptation as a lack of intelligence, and then discussing: what budget shrinks to support digital, iterating on a traditional process, or worrying about disruption.

The truth is that they have been, and will continue to be disrupted while everyone else has already adapted to a behavior and a technology that simply makes sense.

This article was originally published in the Advertising Week Social Club Blog