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Five Business Clichés That Aren’t a Dime a Dozen
Despite their seeming overuse, they are often right on the money! 4/23/2021 | Steve Woodburn, The Only Constant is Change
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I was recently re-reading “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, a computer science professor diagnosed with cancer who had the opportunity to give one last lecture on life as he saw it. A topic he mentioned was business clichés and how despite their seeming overuse, they are so often right on the money.

The dictionary defines a cliché as a trite or overused expression or idea and yet these word-gems last because they resonate with a kernel of truth. On the Andy Griffith Show, Barney Fife used to say you have to nip it in the bud meaning to stop something before it gets out of hand. A deer in headlights refers to someone who is stunned or dazed momentarily while a leopard can’t change their spots notes how people can’t really change who they are. All of those clichés ring true on many levels thus their longevity and repeated use in conversations.

Many business clichés can be annoying, especially when someone uses the same ones over and over again. Is the glass half empty or half full? If you build a better mousetrap, will they come? Do you want to touch base, drill down, think outside the box or pick the low hanging fruit? Does your business need to pivot and do more with less? Some are seemingly contradictory like these three:  money is the root of all evil, money makes the world go round, and money doesn’t grow on trees. Well, which is it?

These five business clichés get the point across in a succinct manner and they’re kind of fun to boot:

  1.  Putting lipstick on a pig: Swine have long been a source of clichés (pigheaded and pig out among others) and I love the visual this term brings to mind. The meaning being you can’t change something from ugly to pretty or from useless to useful. Often used when referring to poor sales numbers or work projects that are doomed to failure.
  2.  Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes: This cliché is attributed to billionaire Ted Turner who used it a lot in regard to business decisions. Think of a team of huskies pulling a sled and the view that all but the lead dog have, then you’ll understand the meaning. Leaders lead and followers follow, and those in front can set the direction for the rest of the pack to follow.
  3.  Paradigm shift: This is defined as a radical change in our underlying beliefs, a metamorphosis, and a transformation in the way we look at things. Paradigm shifts usually happen as a result of new information and can be an instrument of change. People like Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk all changed the world radically with their paradigm shifts.
  4. Blue ocean strategies: A book by this name was released in 2005 and tackled the challenges companies face in head-to-head competition, creating “bloody, red oceans.”  Blue ocean strategies guide companies to find uncontested market space where the competition is irrelevant. Often these “value innovations” involve paradigm shifts that help companies differentiate themselves within their chosen space. In the promotional products world where everyone sells basically the same products, finding a blue ocean is imperative for survival.
  5. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure:  Yes, this applies to women, too.  This idiom is so true for our business. Despite whether you like or dislike something, your customer might see it in a completely different light. There have been many times I’ve shown something to a customer and they hate it, but another customer buys 1,000 of them. Lesson learned: sell the customer what they like, not what I like.

There may be many business clichés you know that are appropriate to your business and I’d suggest you not be afraid to use them. Ironically, younger people just getting into the business world may not know many of these seemingly overused phrases and hopefully will find them useful in remembering certain concepts.  

While you may be the chief cook and bottle washer and see the glass as half full, don’t shoot yourself in the foot or bang your head against a brick wall. The last thing you want is for someone to think you’re a few fries short of a happy meal, not the sharpest blade in the bunch or the brightest bulb in the pack. Clichés can be fun, just don’t overuse them or they might become your Achilles heel. Then again, maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks!

After several decades on-the-radio as a DJ, news anchor and traffic reporter, Steve Woodburn MAS, stumbled, as most do, into the world of promotional products. He spent 29 years on the distributor side and five as a supplier, which gives him a unique perspective on this crazy business and life in general. He currently creates and writes content for industry websites, is writing and hosting a new podcast for PromoCorner called ProFiles and is the Chief Adventurer of Marvelous Moosey Adventures LLC.
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