It’s easy to make fun of the clumsiness and occasional self-importance of corporate jargon, but it’s less easy to replace those words floating around in boardrooms with crisp and meaningful alternatives. Rather than futilely trying to change the words everyone uses, it’s perhaps a more useful exercise to define them clearly to ensure that they have the same shared meaning.

As Andre Spicer argues, jargon has its upsides. “Jargon might be infuriating, but it’s also useful. Jargon sums up complex issues in fewer words. This enables experts to talk precisely to each other about concepts they are familiar with,” he writes. It also can be a way to take the sting out of emotional topics and help people in the same company to build a shared sense of identity.

Yet, it’s also true that we have been bombarded with new terminology during the ‘new normal’ of a ‘unprecedented’ pandemic. As we rebuild businesses in the wake of COVID-19, we’re seeing buzzwords like ‘agility’, ‘resilience’ and ‘pivot’ used even more than they were before the pandemic. These terms are in danger of losing their meaning, so it’s worth considering what they’re actually meant to convey.


Agile can be something that people and businesses do, as well as something they are. It can refer to a set of tools and methodologies that companies use to manage projects in a more iterative, people-centred and results-focused manner. Or it can refer to the ability of an organisation to change direction to stave off new threats or take advantage of new opportunities.

Elaine Pulakos, a speaker and writer on organisational agility and resilience defines agility as: “proactively sensing and redirecting to chart a new path to success by reallocating energy to build new capabilities and stop doing what no longer creates value”. To succeed, it’s important to use agile ways of working where they make sense—but it’s also essential for business leaders to have an agile mindset.


Agility refers to the ability of people, teams and organisations to drive change; adaptability is about how well they can make the change stick. In the words of Pulakos: “Adaptability is being able to react to and absorb change. It includes handling emergencies, switching gears, innovating new ideas, reacting to stress, continuously learning, adapting interpersonally, adapting to different cultures, and adapting to different physical environments.”


The word ‘disruption’ has become threadbare from overuse; indeed, today it has come to mean everything from Netflix putting Blockbuster out of business to a bank making a neat but small tweak to its mobile app. When used correctly, however, disruption refers to a process where smaller new players with fewer resources and new business models, over time, replace the incumbents.

It’s important to note that true disruptive innovations are not breakthrough technologies that make good products better. They are typically products and services that are initially sold to price-sensitive or low-end markets, making them more accessible and affordable. They then move up the value stack and start to displace incumbents in their most lucrative market segments.

True examples of disruptive innovation are fewer and further between than press releases and business news sites would have us think. Check out this read from Clayton M. Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, to see why the guy who dreamt up the concept of disruptive innovation doesn’t believe Uber or Tesla to be disruptive innovators.


Pulakos defines resilience as the ability to “recover and bounce back to a prior positive state or equilibrium when confronted with jolts.” It’s the quality businesses and people have been called on to show through the pandemic. For an organisation, it means recovering from adversity, whether it’s a self-inflicted failure like a product bet gone wrong or an external event like COVID or a new regulation that impacts the ways the business works.

The speed at which a company can recover from adversity can spell the difference between whether it survives and thrives over the longer term. Organisational resilience will be built on top of the resilience of teams and employees, underlining the importance of giving people the support and resources they need to navigate difficult conditions.


Digital transformation is another term that has come to mean different things to different people. However, the important point is that transformation cannot, by definition, be skin-deep. It is not a simple matter of creating a digital experience for the customer that is relatively disconnected from the rest of the business. Neither is it about digitising processes in some siloes in the business.

Instead, digital transformation means a complete reimagining of the business and how it operates, with digital technology, processes and thinking right at the core of its strategy and business model. Most organisations are just at the start of this transformation, the aim of which is to fundamentally change the business so that it can better serve the needs of a digital customer.


[Photo from Adobe Stock]