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6 Overhyped Buzzwords to Watch for in 2014

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At SmartPlanet we focus on business, technology and design—three often intersecting sectors where some exciting, disruptive, innovative stuff is happening. But sometimes, well maybe a lot, startups and established companies alike throw around buzzwords of the moment in an effort to make their product, idea or business model more exciting and meaningful than it really is.

Here are a handful of buzzwords that have received a lot of play—yes, even admittedly by us at SP—over the past year and deserve to be retired in 2014. 

Pivot: Ah, the pivot. Meaning, this business model/product didn't work out very well, so we're going to change what we're doing and see if that works instead. It's not a pivot. It's failing and trying something new. 

Disrupter/disruptive technologies: This term, which took root in Silicon Valley and has invaded even the most staid industries, is one of the most overused terms in recent memory. A disrupter is someone like say, Steve Jobs, who has come up with a product or business approach that forever changes the market. A disruptive technology—created by a team or a single entrepreneur—displaces an existing technology. 

Kerosene, for instance, disrupted the whale oil (for lamps) business. The Ford Model T disrupted the market for horse-drawn vehicles. If Elon Musk gets his Hyperloop built, that could disrupt high-speed trains. But is that new app disrupting [insert existing technology here]? Probably not. 

Innovation/innovative: The staff at SmartPlanet comes across a lot of cool new ideas and approaches to design, clean energy, transportation and urban infrastructure. And with every press release or emailed pitch one word shows up more than any other. Yup, innovation. Or it's cousin "innovative."

But when is something truly innovative? Probably not Kellogg's new line of Gone Nutty! Pop Tarts, which CEO John Bryan called an innovation, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

Big data: This term is showing up everywhere. And like many of these buzzwords on this list, it's often misused. What is "big data?" It isn't the opposite of small data. It's actually an entirely different approach to analysis. 

Big data captures massive amounts of unrelated, and oftentimes unstructured, complex data sets—way more than a single powerful server could handle—and provides meaningful insight. A lot of companies are throwing around the term "big data" when, in fact, all they're doing is simple data analysis.  

Honorable Mentions

These terms are overused, but they don't quite make it to the top of the makes-me-cringe list. Still, beware when you see companies throwing around these terms. 

Crowdsourcing: Another way of describing how a company or organization outsources a task typically completed by an employer to an undefined, typically large group. This open call is generally conducted online.

While the term was officially coined in 2006, the concept has been around for centuries, notably the Oxford English Dictionary was compiled and produced with the outside help from the community.

Still, there should be a limit to the use of the term. If you're an exec at a company and you want to poll your customers about your product or business, let's agree that it should be called a survey, and not crowdsourcing. 

Hacking: It seems like everything is being hacked today, and not much of this hacking appears to be linked to actual computing. There are productivity hacks, life hacks and parenting hacks. Even food can be hacked now. 

Let's do a little language hacking and only use this term as it was intended. 

Do you have any overused buzzwords you think should be retired in 2014? Share your thoughts in our comments section 

Thumbnail photo: Network graph of people on Twitter connecting to topics of big data, infochimps orHadoop by Flickr user Mrflip

— By on December 23, 2013, 2:11 PM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure