6 Business Buzzwords Translated by CEO Ryan Wilson

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Perhaps you fell asleep during a meeting and woke to a heated discussion about “paradigm shifts.” Maybe you’ve read through one too many job postings that are searching for “rock stars.”

Buzzwords like these are often seen as meaningless and ornamental, but to many employers, such jargon is shorthand for a range of important business ideologies. Whether you’re an employee, a client or a job hunter, understanding the meaning behind these words can help you navigate the intricate workings of the corporate world.

To reach a better understanding of the following buzzwords, I spoke to Ryan Wilson, CEO of the Denver-based digital marketing agency FiveFifty. Wilson has founded three businesses, and his entrepreneurial expertise coupled with his managerial experience has provided him with valuable insight on the subject.

Rock Star  

To anyone who’s ever dreamed of becoming a rock star, you’re in luck. These days, rock stars are in high demand, although any shredding you do will be of the paper variety.

“Rock stars are people who do more than what is asked for,” Wilson said. “They consistently exceed expectations and really take ownership of the things they’re doing.”

Like go-getters and self-starters, rock stars rise above the call of duty and are able take initiative with minimal supervision. Rock stars don’t wait to be told what to do, they anticipate what needs doing, and they do it.

If a company is hiring rock stars, you might infer that the company favors a more hands off management style. In this type of work environment, the employer tends to place a greater amount of responsibility on the individual, and the work culture is more goal oriented than task oriented.


In the business world, transparency refers to the clarity, accuracy and volume of information a company discloses to outsiders.

“We’re fully transparent,” Wilson said about FiveFifty. “We believe that if we can be transparent with our clients about what we’re doing for them, they’ll make better decisions and trust us longer term.”

Businesses like FiveFifty trumpet their transparency, and view it as a value-add. But other businesses take the opposite approach, and keep a tight lid on internal intelligence.

“A lot of companies in our space operate in a black box sort of style,” Wilson said. “They’ll do a campaign and take the learnings of the campaign internally, and never share that with the clients.”

Big Data

How big is “big data,” and how do we measure said data’s “bigness?”

Perhaps the answer lies in the words themselves. Big describes something of considerable size, and data refers to facts, figures and statistics. Big data, then, must be a considerably sized collection of facts, figures and statistics.

Well that doesn’t help.

Fortunately, Wilson offered a simple and sensible answer: “My definition is that big data is anything that is too complex to consume without the assistance of tools.”


A marketing agency translating the web analytics of a recent campaign into improvement strategies, a hospital analyzing patient records to predict which patients are likely to be readmitted, hotels looking at weather and flight cancellation information to increase bookings by targeting stranded travelers – these are all examples of big data in action and serve as a reminder that big data equals big money.

Don’t take this buzzword lightly.


Corporate sustainability isn’t focused solely on environmental concerns. Rather, it encompasses the management of environmental, social and financial risks and opportunities.

“A sustainable business is not something that’s completely trendy, it’s something institutional,” Wilson said. He went on to describe the difference between a non-sustainable business and a sustainable one as the difference between riding a very short wave and having a wind behind your back.

Sustainable businesses last.

They can weather economic storms and passing fads. In a way, a sustainable business is a recession-proof business.

Incorporating sustainability into a brand reassures clients, investors and other external stakeholders that getting into bed with the company will pay off.

Bleeding edge

The corporate dictionary is littered with edges. There’s cutting-edge, leading edge and of course, edge, as in, “our marketing campaign needs an edge or we’re never going to sell this whipped cream-flavored pepperoni!” Bleeding edge is the newest addition to the family.

“Bleeding edge is something corporate people use to describe something too risky to try,” Wilson said. “It might be a great thing, but it’s too new.”

Bleeding edge is most often associated with medicine and technology and can be applied to anything from untested software to new cancer drugs. Wilson cites SpaceX, Elon Musk’s orbital rocket launch company, as a recent example.

”Getting on a commercial space flight is bleeding edge right now. It’s probably really fun, but there’s probably a good chance you’d die.”

Paradigm shift

A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in how an industry operates and is typically the result of a significant social, technological or economical development.

“Every sort of market has paradigm shifts, whether the market is changing the company or the company is changing the market,” Wilson said.

Wilson offers Uber, the mobile-app based taxi service, as an example.

By streamlining the payment process, creating thousands of new jobs and making it easier than ever for people to find rides, Uber radically altered the landscape of the transportation industry. Because of this paradigm shift, transportation services are now having to rethink their business model in order to stay competitive.


While they’re easy to poke fun at, buzzwords are essentially distillations of fundamental business concepts, strategies and principles. Familiarizing yourself with the buzzwords in your industry will give you a greater understanding of the industry, the company and the expectations of its employees.

Joshua KrausJoshua Kraus
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Josh Kraus is a Chicago-born, Denver-based writer and mediocre autobiographist with an interest in art, entrepreneurship, and emerging industries. When he's not writing, he attends to his t-shirt business, Bird Fur. Find him at joshkra.us and birdfurtees.com.

business buzzwordsbuzzwordsjkrauskrausjMarketing
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