Buzzword Awareness

Separating the 50k ft View and Ground Zero

Buzzword Awareness is the ability to discern innovation-speak, platitudes, and buzzwords and translate it into actual practice.


Who hasn't heard of these favorites before?

Disrupt, synergy, cultural sensitivity, do the right thing, make it happen, guiding principles, team building, collaborative, theory of change, challenges, technical assistance, convergence, entrepreneurial, agile, paradigm shift, best practices, leverage, impactful, opportunity, grassroots, business models, cultivation, outcomes, best practices, consensus building, action plan, design thinking for social innovation, take ownership, sector initiative, stewardship.

With the cascading rush of information and constricted time frames, there’s very little time to explore what these even mean for nonprofits. There’s also no shortage of capacity-building programs that promise to teach nonprofits about becoming more entrepreneurial, adaptive, innovative, business-like, creative, effective, collaborative, strategic, or whatever the goal may be.

CxOs take the largest hit in time, money, and energy in making sense of all the available options. But then the task suddenly explodes in complexity when these new concepts must be applied system-wide in the organization.

Yet, as the mainstream press continue to spin the same platitudes and “innovation language,” many CxOs still struggle to make those goals reality.

Why does this happen? Two major reasons:

  • With strategic planning reigning as the familiar and politically correct "change management" default, it's easy to attach lots of glowing keywords.
  • Extreme time pressures to study and make sense of all the information out there about new and next practices.

The 50,000 ft view versus ground zero

Seek specificity over ambiguity!

The 50,000 ft view is defined as the highest management overview level such as the nonprofit's vision or mission. Ground zero consists of strategies and tactics to create the actual capabilities to reach those heights.

To better mend this rift, a few recommendations can be made:

  • Seek practitioners familiar with the empirical research showing the connection between behavior change and culture change.
  • Seek practitioners who can mend the rift by introducing actual skills, behaviors, and mindsets related to platitudes and buzzwords.
  • Seek practitioners who can assist you in dispelling further myths and misconceptions around design, creativity, innovation, and small-scale collaboration.

The problem is not just rapid change—it’s also the sheer volume of information rushing at us from all directions and many sources.

- Warren Berger, "A More Beautiful Question"

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