Finance is often described as the “language of business.” In many MBA classes, you’ll find a strange dialectic being spoken, a crazed concoction of acronyms, buzzwords, and metaphors. Some call it “MBA-speak” – a robust set of synergies that enable students to gain traction, build bandwidth, and leverage their learning.
In a nutshell, MBAs drill down and peel the onion so they can close a loop end-to-end. This requires them to formulate a scope and weigh the optics from a 30,000-foot view. To do this, MBAs are trained to ramp up the scale of their turnkey solution so they can monetize the next stage across the value chain … delivering a win-win ROI across the triple bottom line.
Is it any wonder that some people think MBA stands for “Masters in Buzzword Accumulation” (when the term isn’t being twisted into “Mediocre But Arrogant,” “Manager By Accident,” “More Bad Advice,” or “Me Before Anyone”)?
COMMUNICATE OR OBFUSCATE?
For the University of Missouri’s Orvil Savery, a 2019 Best & Brightest MBA, such clichés create a “secret club,” replete with a “secret language and a blazer.” If anything, he says, MBA-speak serves an essential purpose. “You haven’t truly become initiated until you can walk into a room or give a presentation and say something like “It depends” for literally every answer without anyone looking confused,” Savery jokes. “You might not fully have the answer but at least you’ve bought yourself some crucial minutes to come up with a solution.”
Admittedly, notes the London Business School’s Allie Fleder, MBA-speak can be wielded as a weapon against those “not in the know.” However, the language is increasingly sparking a backlash among students – with cutesy models heading the list of complaints for the University of North Carolina’s Svitlana Niskoklon.
A LIST OF MBAs’ FAVORITE B-SCHOOL TERMS
“Acronyms that drive me crazy are 3Cs or 5Ps models,” she says. “Did you know that 5Ps stands for “product-price-promotion-place-people” for marketers, “plan-ploy-pattern-perspective-position” for strategists and “planning-process-people-pricing-partnerships” for entrepreneurs? Same story with 3Cs. Please, tell business people who create those models that there are 24 other letters in the English alphabet. Stop overusing P and C.”
Alas, P&C itself can stand for “property and casualty” or “personal and commercial” in business school too. Despite being dense and overlapping, MBA-speak conveys some real truths – often tongue-in-cheek – about MBA life. Ever hear of the Turkey Drop? It’s seemingly an annual ritual, usually around Thanksgiving, where a first-year MBA will dump a long-term or long-distance beau. How about the Circle of Death? At networking events, eager MBAs form a circle around recruiters, each vying to make an impression. Of course, everyone knows FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – an impulse that leaves thousands overcommitted and overwhelmed every year.
What are some of the most critical terms in the business school lexicon? This year, Poets&Quants asked our Best & Brightest MBAs and MBAs To Watch to share the “goofiest MBA term or acronym” they encountered…along with its meaning. Looking to get a head start on business school – or in need of a good laugh? From the Big Mac Index to the HIPPO Effect to the Relationship IPO, here are 30 MBA terms that left the biggest impression on the Class of 2019.
BATNA: It stands for the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. If you don’t know your BATNA, you don’t know anything.
Andrea Caralis, Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)
BHAG: Big Hairy Ass Goals – Set them and set them often. I remember celebrating receiving my full-time offer with my career coach, who gave me a hug and then immediately asked me what my next BHAG would be (after mere minutes of feeling the high of a job offer). Setting goals is important, achieving them is rewarding, and then setting the bar to a higher level is what helps us to continue to grow. Jennifer Solomon, Indiana University (Kelley)
Big Mac Index: This compares the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac burger across countries; it essentially serves to measure a currency’s relative purchasing power. Before business school, I never knew that fast food could tell us so much about foreign exchange rates.
Franklyn Darnis, University of Virginia (Darden)
Blue Ocean vs. Red Oceans: I first listened to this in a Global Strategy class and I had no idea of what it meant. But basically, blue ocean strategy is when a company creates its own market space and make competitors irrelevant. Red Ocean can be explained as a really competitive market space, where companies fight to get customers. And yes, red is associated with blood.
Barbara Chavier Mandarin, ESADE
It’s ironic that Blue Ocean Strategy represents uncharted market space, and Red Oceans represent common market space. In real life, most oceans are blue, and red oceans are very rare.
Charlotte Pekosk, Notre Dame (Mendoza)
Circle of Death: Imagine you are at a networking reception and there is one representative from your dream company in your dream function. Now imagine there are 10 other people also interested in speaking to the same representative to form a connection and somehow you all end up in one large, growing circle. Everyone is awkwardly nodding and smiling at the same person while thinking of that one “home run” question. To make matters worse, no one knows how to politely exit. This is the infamous circle of death.
Ashley Fox, University of Texas (McCombs)
CRAAP: When doing research for a memo, I stumbled across CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose) and had to double-check that it was real.
Michael Hilfiker, Wisconsin Business School
CRaP: In my summer internship, we frequently used the acronym CRaP. This stands for specific retail items that “Can’t realize any profit” and thus should be considered for potential removal from the Amazon retail channel program. CRaP was succinct, descriptive, and always good for a laugh.
Caitlin Styres, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)
DBW: At Fuqua, we have a saying— DBW or “Don’t Be Weird.” The spirit of it is definitely sarcastic, but at the core it means “be yourself.” This advice is especially useful during recruiting when we get in our heads. It’s meant to remind each other to be our authentic selves.
Ashley Brown, Duke University (Fuqua)
Efficient Frontier: When I first learned about the “Efficient Frontier” portfolio theory in our investor class – from what I remember, it represents an optimal set of portfolios that offers the highest expected return for a certain level of risk – I remember doodling a set of planets and aliens on my handout. It sounded like something from Star Trek!
Jasmine Ako, Yale SOM
ELI5: Explain It Like I’m 5 (years old). Hilarious and so useful!!
Thabo Lenneiye, Cambridge University (Judge)
Go to next page to learn more about the Finance Troll, GOOP, and the PIE and 4 Slices.