lay-off-the-jargon-thumbI was 32 years old, older than most, before I got my first corporate job. Until then I had either worked for myself in some capacity or for small, family-owned businesses. I have to admit, I was really intimidated by it in the beginning. I was working for a huge, name brand company, everyone (including me) had to wear suits everyday and unlike me, most all of my peers had bachelor degrees or higher when it came to education. I felt out of place and often wondered if I deserved to be there-especially during my first few months.

The thing is, I was good at my job, but the language my co-workers and bosses spoke was often puzzling to me. It was a vernacular and series of acronyms that took me a little while to nail down. In fact, I had to find the 20+ page glossary of acronyms on the company intranet to help me along (no, I am not joking). After a few months and with the help of amazing mentors, I connected the dots and learned how all that language related to the terms I already new from the “outside” world and I was fine-in fact I began to thrive.

I was hired into the marketing unit as their “Creative Services Specialist”, which was their way of saying Graphic Designer (see what I mean?). And, though mostly self-taught, I knew design–that was my world and I owned it. After awhile, what I noticed was that the language, much like the education requirements that nearly kept me from actually landing the job, were simply hurdles. Some would argue necessary to filter through the vast amount of candidates they were seeing at the time. I would argue that it could, and has, been used to maintain exclusivity and to keep the “others” (whoever they might be) out.

As I got to know the corporate culture and structure more and more over the next 10 years, I would often come across people that could have been, not only, easily replaced by the “uneducated” working people I grew up around, but completely outdone by them in every sense of the word if they were given half an opportunity. In fact, I have often said, that if I had some of my friends from the old neighborhood working with me during those years in corporate America, I know as a team, we would have out-produced, out-performed and contributed more than nearly every other group I was working with at the time–and we would have had a hell lot more fun doing it.

Fast forward to now. As I attend many of these tech/startup events, I almost daily come across some new buzzword or acronym that has me on my phone googling it only to find out it is simply a rebrand of an idea or concept that is older than I am. Oh, I get it-Acronyms and technical terms are useful, efficient and necessary. They often describe very specific, complex concepts in a couple of syllables that are needed in our work. But sometimes, I wonder if we don’t slip into jargon territory, not from necessity, but as a means of defense, either to sound smarter or to keep people out that we feel might threaten our own livelihood or status.

The potential problem with that is, that you might overlook and miss a quality individual that could contribute to your team/organization/company. Conversely, you might end up with someone who knows all the jargon, but has little else to offer in way of real substance. The terminology and processes can be learned–believe me I am living proof. But good work ethics, drive, creative problem solving and healthy, competitive spirit are much harder things to teach. Make sure you are not confusing the two the next time you meet someone at the next “hackathon”–you could miss an opportunity to work with someone amazing and not even know it.

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