Business buzzword we should ban: “Nimble”

Stop using nimble in business

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Posts that begin with stories are usually pretty good, so here’s a story: back in summer 2013, I was working on a b-school internship for McKesson down in Houston. The job was awful in about 5,721 different ways, but at the present moment, that’s neither here nor there. Point was: I knew I wasn’t getting a job with McKesson post-summer (nor did I necessarily want one), and I knew I’d be returning to school and have to start a job search from Step 1 on up. I was dreading that. In reality, it became a pretty dreadful job search experience — but ultimately, it all worked out.

So around mid-July that summer — and FYI, my summer boss had disappeared for basically 2-3 weeks without any real context — I’m super depressed, I’m living apart from my wife (she was in Minneapolis at the time, because that’s where we were based), I have no job prospects, etc, etc. I got a random contact on LinkedIn from a friend of mine; the contact works for Anheuser-Busch at corporate in St. Louis. So I’m thinking to myself:

  • I like beer.
  • I’ve been to St. Louis and it’s actually a pretty cool city.
  • They have a bunch of other cool locations like Fort Collins, etc.
  • Hey, I could do this! Beer is my calling!

So I “network” with this guy a little bit on LinkedIn — insert rifle to scrotum here — and finally, we set up a time to talk on the phone. I should have known from some of this guy’s LinkedIn messaging that he was probably a total corporate d-bag, but like I said, any port in a storm. 

Needless to say almost, we get on the phone and the whole thing is a train wreck from the absolute beginning. We had messaged, but he doesn’t really understand who I am or why he took the call (amazing fact of corporate life is that people will “hop on a call” with almost anyone), I’m basically over-explaining, he decides to start listing job websites for Busch, etc. It was awful. The call took eight minutes max and it depressed me the rest of the day.

The one thing I clearly remember about this call is how many fucking buzzwords this guy used. I hate, hate, hate corporate buzzwords. Most places preach transparency but then let all their people run around talking in words that have no defined or clear meaning. How is that helpful? It isn’t.

OK, so … this Anheuser-Busch guy? His two favorites were:

In the two years or so since that call, I’ve heard “flat” a few times in different meanings or business journalism articles — but probably no more than 10-15 times.

I hear “nimble” like 2-3 times a day. It kills me.

First of all, most organizations aren’t nimble in the conventional sense. If anything, all the technology we have now is probably making decision-making slower, not faster.

Second of all, “nimble” makes me think of a deer banding through a forest. It doesn’t make me think of anything to do with a team I’m on and achieving deliverables.

Third of all, some synonyms for “nimble” apparently include quick, alert, lively, observant, astute, discerning, perceptive, shrewd and sharp.

Does that sound like the majority of people you work with? 

Probably not, right?

Please stop using the word.

Ted Bauer


  1. Wow. Love this. It’s as if companies have seen the movie Office Space and decided to emulate Initech. A couple of my most hated buzzwords include synonyms for the simple and easy to understand word: use. Instead, people tend to say “leverage” or “utilize” as if using a 1 syllable word just isn’t corporate enough.

    Other buzzwords that make me gag include “align,” “cross-functional,” “paradigm/paradigm shift,” “robust,” “synergy,” “interface” (the robots will be here soon enough), “action items.” I’ll stop there to lower my blood pressure.

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