Why your ‘revolution’ is my goddamn nightmare

How many times did you revolutionize the TV channel last night?

When you stopped eating dairy, were you revolutionizing your diet?

And was there a hint of a revolution when you changed lanes while driving on your morning commute?

I didn’t think so.

Why then, are so many business leaders hell-bent on using the term ‘revolution’ as a way of describing the transformative impact they’ll have on their respective industries? We hear it over and over again: how a new business is utterly disrupting and “revolutionizing” a tired industry. If you’re not building a business that’s revolutionizing something, you’re not building a business. Period.

But how much truth is there to all this ‘revolutionizing’? And how much of it is lazy marketing BS? Not every business can upend their industry and transform our way of life. In fact, only a minuscule number of businesses actually do.

‘Revolutionizing’ Startups

Traditionally, we reserve the word ‘revolution’ for periods of radical political and social upheaval. The characteristics being defeat at war, a financial crisis, peasant rebellion, or disgruntled military. That is, of course, unless you find yourself in Startup Land.

The first 30–40 seconds of this clip from HBO’s Silicon Valley says it all with a perfect dose of satire.

Startups have unceremoniously kidnapped the word “revolution” and overused it to ad nauseam. The word’s use across every industry makes for truly cringeworthy reading on company websites, press releases, thought leadership articles and beyond.

Forget about political and social injustices — these days if you find a new way to hold a fork you’re “revolutionizing the way Americans support their caloric intake”. Pat yourself on the back, you just got your first cover on Inc. Magazine.

Why you need to stop

Firstly, credit where credit’s due. We have witnessed genuine revolutions in technology and business: Uber revolutionized the taxi industry; Apple revolutionized personal music and the mobile phone; Amazon changed retail; Dollar Shave Club toppled the shaving overlords; Netflix, Spotify, and AirBnB have all had transformative effects on their respective industries; and Facebook basically reshaped the Internet as we know it.

These are exceptions that prove the rule. It’s the bourgeoning technology startup that ‘leverages mobile technology and big data to revolutionize how marketers place ads’ — and others just like it — that need a reality check.

Successful? Potentially. Revolutionary? Please…

Let’s take a moment to unpack the word and call bullsh*t (pardon the French) on so-called ‘revelatory’ technology.

Miriam Webster has two definitions for Revolution:

1. the action by a celestial body of going round in an orbit or elliptical course;
2. a fundamental change in political organization; or a sudden, radical, or complete change.

We can safely rule the first definition out. Unless your business is okay with going in circles that use of the word isn’t going to help. The second definition has the meat. And I can already hear the mob of startup founders pointing out that those last 4 words — “a sudden, radical, or complete change” — are justification for the use of the term. I disagree. And I’m the one writing the article so I determine where we go.

Here’s why everyone needs to stop relying on the word ‘revolution’ in their tagline, marketing copy, and elevator pitch:

1. It’s lazy:

We’re in the midst of an entrepreneurial and startup renaissance. Every man and his dog are launching businesses. So inevitably, every man and his dog are revolutionizing something. For the sake of being unique and bringing something fresh to the table, spend an extra hour coming up with a better, more original tag line that differentiates you from the competition.

2. It’s presumptuous:

Maybe we’re splitting hairs but revolutions are generally named after they’ve happened. It’s only upon looking back at a successful period of change — usually when a monumental shift in government power is complete — do we refer to them as revolutions. But success is hard to come by in the business world (as is overthrowing a government, TBH). Startups fail 90% of the time. Chances are you’re getting a little ahead of yourself if you start referring to a business idea that you came up with in college as ‘revelatory’. Let the market figure that out for you.

3. It’s cliche:

Let’s face it, the startup industry is drenched in cliche. It’s a satirist’s dream, and one reason why HBO’s Silicon Valley is such a hit show. Referring to your game-changing idea as “revelatory” is about as startup cliche as branded zipper hoodies, office ping pong tables, Burning Man, mission statements with “relentlessly focused” in them, and bragging about how little sleep you get.

Take a leaf of advice from the OG startup founder — the Founding Father himself — Mr. Thomas Jefferson:

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”

Is that quote a cliche in itself? Yes — in fact, it’s probably printed on the break room wall of your office (it is in mine) — but the point is, you can’t meaningfully stand out from the mass of other startup companies unless you ditch the tired cliches. So do it now.

It’s for the greater good

I understand that advice is cheap. And there’s a big difference between suggesting what a company should do and actually doing it. There are often many factors at play and juggling them all to find the perfect tagline or elevator pitch is damn hard. But for the good of your own company, and those who have to listen to your pitch, please stop with all the revolutionizing.

After all, I doubt reading this article has revolutionized your way of thinking. Or has it?

It would be cool if it did…

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