A phrase caught my eye the other day. It was one of those phrases that was sad, disheartening, and demoralizing all at the same time.

It was sad because whomever wrote it no doubt believed he thought it meant something and also believed he knew what that something was. It was disheartening because most of the folks who read it no doubt believed it meant something and also believed they knew what that something was. It was demoralizing because it doesn’t mean anything — and it got written, read, and believed anyway.

The phrase was disruptive innovation research.

Phrases like this exist somewhere on a scale between useless jargon and abject poppycock. If they have any meaning at all (they don’t), that meaning is at best ambiguous. At worst, their meaning is utterly speculative. But granting that its meaning warrants at least a moment’s thought (it doesn’t), there were, as I saw it, five possibilities:

  1. It connoted research into disruptive innovation. Since disruptive innovation is synonymous with change, I’m not sure what kind of results such research might yield. But if you’re going to pay for The Disruptive Innovation Research Report, make sure you get change back from your nickel.
  2. It connoted research that was somehow disrupting innovation. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do is interrupt some genius while he’s innovating; although— the fact that no two believers in this malarkey would define innovation in the same way notwithstanding — I’m not exactly sure how one’s supposed to know when another’s innovating.
  3. It connoted research that was disruptively innovative. If that happened to be true (it’s not likely) — in light of today’s predilections for secondary research, tertiary research, and frivolously unsubstantiated hearsay — any rigorous primary research at all might constitute disruptive innovation … if anyone had the vaguest inkling of what disruptive innovation means.
  4. It connoted research about innovation, but said research was getting in the way of something else. I humbly suggest that if you’re even tempted to research innovation, you’re disrupting everything else, including any shot at what might otherwise have been a useful purpose for your life.
  5. It intended to mean exactly what it said, in which case, all hope is lost.

If you spend any time hanging around deli counters, you’ll hear a word for phrases like disruptive innovation research. That word is baloney.

It says something (not terribly good) about us that the most disruptive innovation research we can conduct these days is in a dictionary.