MBA by practice, but physicist at heart

Business & entrepreneurship

Like many people, I find it irritating whenever I hear meaningless business phrases used over and over again. You know, things like:

  1. We should leverage the engineering team for this project.
  2. Can we gain any synergies by doing this?
  3. We don’t have the bandwidth on our team to take this on.
  4. Let’s discuss this offline (as in not in the current meeting).

Meaningless business jargon is so commonplace in daily corporate life that someone created Business Buzzword Bingo a while back — a fun game to play while sitting in meetings.

I recently heard a new term which a quick internet search reveals isn’t apparently all that new: “bad optics”. I saw this in some meeting notes that were being sent around, and I chuckled at the time, thinking whoever took the notes either misunderstood what was being said (perhaps “OpEx”, often short for “Operating Expenses”, or “Operational Excellence”) or had an overly aggressive spell checker.

But I discovered I was wrong after seeing the phrase pop up more and more at work. A couple of my teammates finally confirmed that saying something “is bad optics” means that something “looks bad to an observer”.

I have no idea how that came to happen.

The word “optics” to me — perhaps because I studied physics, but also for most people, I’d still guess — is a branch of physics dealing with light and its interaction with matter. “Bad optics” conjures up the embarrassing problem with the , or an image that’s out-of-focus, perhaps due to dirt on a lens. It does not mean that something shouldn’t be done in order to prevent a PR gaffe. Besides, what’s wrong with saying something “looks bad” instead of “it’s bad optics”?

To readers in other countries, I’m curious. Do you experience meaningless business jargon where you work, especially if you work in languages other than English? If so, what are some common phrases you hear?


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7 Feedbacks on "MBA by practice, but physicist at heart"


Frightening how ppl will appropriate words and use them incorrectly. Bad optics always means bad lenses, i.e. poorly made glasses or mirrors.

People think I’m being sarcastic when I print out Buzzword Bingo for them, but sadly I just want them to use English properly with clarity and precision.

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I totally agree…. and I’m not even an MBA or business student. I read enough of the literature, news and other articles to have heard phrases such as these. It’s part of the culture that I don’t like. It’s not a good thing for too much of everyday life to get folded into the operating expenses folder or marketing management soup and subsumed under “organizational psychology” (ok, that one is a legitimate discipline, but you know what I mean). The rise in the perceived necessity for personal branding online, I think, is also a symptom of the corporatization of Western (U.S.?) culture. I was thinking about this today while hearing Seth Godin talk. What would his services be if “Marketing” wasn’t so ubiquitous and necessary? Another sad thing about business culture is the passing off of half-truths and half-knowledge as expertise and knowledge. I know enough people who are sent in to give seminars and talks and don’t know half of what they’re supposed to be talking about, but they’re just supposed to wing it. Great leadership there!


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Yikes, that one hasn’t made it to MS yet, thank god.

Another one I hate, being a biochemist is “it’s in our DNA”, when a company talks about something they do, like security, or innovation or whatever.

How freakin’ annoying. A company doesn’t have DNA. Shut up already.


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