The Innovative Degradation of Language

Last week, my friend and fellow BIZCATALYST 360˚ scribe, Darlene Corbett, published a piece called, “Unleashing Your Extraordinary Word Power With Authenticity”. Incorrigible word-geek and language snob that I am, she had me at the title. Then she really grabbed me:

A few years ago during a meeting which required my attendance, one person who always talked incessantly about, well, nothing, decided to update us about something. After a long-winded discourse, this individual let us know there was nothing new but thought they should notify us anyway.

Darlene’s post made me think more broadly and more specifically:

In the broad sense, if we were to extend consideration of our time beyond meetings, how much of our time is wasted trying to discern the meaning of what we hear and read? How many people talk or write aimlessly before getting to a point (or revealing they don’t have one) that could have been made (or its lack revealed) in minutes or seconds? How many people talk and write in jargon that loses meaning and gains prospective definitions every time it’s used?

Brass Tacks

In a more specific sense, consider the word, innovation. What does that mean? Are you sure? Are you sure what it means to every person who says it or writes it? Is it different from change? Is it different from imagination? From ingenuity? From creativity? Are you sure?

If you go to Wikipedia and look up the age-old question — how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? — this is part of what you’ll find:

In modern usage, it … has been used as a metaphor for wasting time debating topics of no practical value, or questions whose answers hold no intellectual consequence, while more urgent concerns pile up.

Grandpa O’Brien would have expressed that notion as chasing the mice while the elephants are running down the street. But the point remains the same: We’re increasingly enamored of much ado about nothing of intellectual substance, even as we ignore momentous matters of material meaning.

I thought of the angel question when I saw a post from another guy who’s trying to sell another book to convince us he’s another innovation expert with another reason to tell us what to do. And to add insult to injury, our friend, who shall remain unnamed to keep me out of hot water, he refers to himself (I promise you: I would never make this up), as a Disruptive Innovation Expert. Especially if he believes he is one, I’d call him dangerous. But maybe that’s just me.

In his post, the Disruptive Innovation Expert offered six nuggets of indisputably insipid inanity [translations mine]:

  1. Identify Issues before They Become Problems. [Translation: Clairvoyance is an asset.]
  2. Don’t Get Tunnel Vision. [Translation: Remember attention? Pay it.]
  3. Embrace Explosive Transformation. [Translation: Floor it.]
  4. Avoid the Temptation to Move Faster. [Translation: No. Wait! Hit the brakes!]
  5. Work on Your Business. [Translation: Strategy before tactics.]
  6. Think, Reevaluate, Repeat. [Translation: Common sense, anyone?]

That’s innovative? Really? I don’t know who should be more ashamed — the Disruptive Innovation Expert who’s peddling that schlock or the rest of us for letting him get away with it.

May I Have This Dance?

Someday there will be a research group convened comprising linguists and anthropologists. The group will be commissioned to determine the point in history at which innovation became the most popular and the least meaningful word in the language. Simultaneously, a corollary group will be convened comprising psychologists and philosophers. That group will set itself the task of identifying the genesis of our ceaseless gullibility and the reasons for which we adopt nugatory gibberish like innovation as gratuitous ideology, en masse.

The results of that research won’t be taught in business schools. They’re selling buzzwords and betting the ranch on gullibility just like the would-be innovators. The results won’t be published in Harvard Business Review, either, for exactly the same reason. And the results most certainly won’t be read in or espoused by corporate bureaucracies or the consultants who feed on them because … well … you know.

All of that notwithstanding, here’s the only thing you really need to know: One person with a concrete plan and unshakeable resolve is worth more than an infinite number of self-appointed innovators.

Let the innovators dance anywhere they like. The rest of us have meaningful work to do.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. Thank you Mark for mentioning me! I am glad my article got you to think and write this fabulous article. All of learn from each o!ther, and as I said in my message on LinkedIn, I love, love, love this. So many fancy titles that create a mask of style, but underneath, well, sometimes not much if anything in substance.

  2. And I was thinking of rebranding us, the O’Brien Innovation Group. Just take out the entire communication part and get us ready for the future. 😉

    Words will always matter to those who understand them. But not everyone has that sense of wonder and capacity to learn. They care more about knowing than learning. The unbridled ego is the father of innovation.

    • 🤣 You got me there, JoAnna.

      And I find this intriguing: “The unbridled ego is the father of innovation.” If ego, in this context, equates to abandonment of intellect and intellectual discernment, I agree.