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The more you write ‘strategy’, the less likely it is you have one

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When a corporate leader ceases to be effective, it is time to retire. However brilliant they may once have been, there will be a moment when their value has diminished and they need to step aside.

For sports professionals past their prime, the same holds true. We retire clothes that we once considered elegant, but which now have lost their shape and no longer serve the purpose for which they were bought. This is the natural course of events.

Strangely, we are reluctant to apply the same discipline to the words we use in business, which can have a dulling effect no less profound than a doddering CEO at the helm. Business today is replete with words that either have lost their meaning or are so bland and shop-soiled that they convey nothing.

Take the word strategy.

A search for strategy on the Harvard Business Review website produces more than 30,000 results, while a writer for the digital news outlet Quartz found more than 725,000 results when searching LinkedIn for job titles with ‘strategy’.

According to Google’s Ngram viewer, which shows how frequently a word or phrase appears in the 30 million books scanned by the company, strategy appeared in writing six times more often in 2008 than it did in 1940, controlling for the difference in the number of books scanned from each year.

‘Strategic’ charted a similar rise in literature – and on LinkedIn. For the past six years, it has made the site’s list of the top 10 “overused buzzwords,” coming in at no. 10 in 2018.


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