Be Aware of Using Weird Business Metaphors

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The word “tsunami” was used a lot in the past to describe a trend or momentum in a market.

Then a real tsunami hit in December 2004. Hundreds of thousands died and more than 1 million people lost their homes. Suddenly we didn’t throw that term around as much anymore (well, except for some people: “[Jim] Cramer…called the latest baseball tech breakthrough a ‘tsunami’ and the ’single best example of the Mobile Internet.’”)

When we speak or write, we use metaphors constantly, without realizing it. They are powerful and insidious. And many have crept into everyday use that upon scrutiny are perhaps not what we really want to say. Such as:

– serial entrepreneur. My favorite weird business metaphor. In what other context does “serial” as a modifier have a positive connotation? Serial killer. Serial rapist. Ugh. Suggestion: how about “entrepreneur” or “successful entrepreneur”?

– viral marketing. Sometimes the metaphors we develop reflect our deep unease with the subject. “Viral marketing” suggests something silent, hard to trace, and… bad for us.

– death march. I used this term a lot when I managed software projects, like, “Let’s keep on our deliverable schedule so this project doesn’t turn into a death march.” With the recent release of the book, “Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath,” it brought home again the stark difference between a casual reference to the Bataan Death March and the real thing.

– nuclear option. Do we really want to compare a political tactic with our worst nightmares of the Cold War?

[Are there other weird metaphors out there? Post them in the comments. Thanks!]

There are countless other metaphors comparing business with warfare. Now that we are more than five years into the Iraq war, people are more aware of the costs and sacrifices of actual fighting, and so these metaphors seem to be in decline. But the war will end someday, and soon thereafter, they’ll start coming back.

It’s a dead certainty.

Image source: tj.blackwell

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