10 Overused Words of 2015 That Still Matter (And Why They Should)

1.Makers. The term makers has been slapped onto a movement that peddles the sale of artisanal goods from erasers to tortilla chips. It’s DIY and grassroots. But it’s also the idea used to sell Chryslers and celebrate American heritage. It’s the name of festivals taking place around the world where makers come to show and tell. It’s the platform that AOL launched a few years ago to house what’s become the largest collection of women’s stories ever assembled. Maker sometimes refers to things made exclusively without the aid of machine. Other times it refers specifically to industrially manufactured items. Despite these opposing definitions and liberal interpretations, the idea that motivates this rampant overuse of the word makers speaks to 2015, capturing an idea worth holding onto. At its root maker hints at a desire, a type of nostalgic impulse, that stands in opposition to an increasingly lightning-speed, swipe-left-swipe-right, thousand-emails-a day existence. Makers represent a set of ideals built upon the idea that there is value in making things, in being conscious and even conscientious not only about product, but process.

2. Women in Film. As Nora Ephron succinctly put it when she included ‘Panels on Women in Film’ in her list of ‘What I Won’t Miss’ — we don’t need another one. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve participated in my fair share of women in film panels (and full disclosure, will probably continue to do so in the future), and countless other events like them. They’re good conversations, with very smart, articulate, and accomplished women. But labeling these as women’s forums has the unintended consequence of reinforcing an implicit belief that women aren’t already part of all conversations about film, or worse, that the conversations we lead must have a different set of sensibilities and concerns than those not focused exclusively on women. This year, though, the conversation experienced a tectonic shift, one I hope will inspire lasting change.

Maureen Dowd contributed her brilliant voice to this shift in a compelling in-depth cover story about the state of women in Hollywood and the pervasive sexism the industry must confront and dismantle in order to move forward. Similarly, Jennifer Lawrence penned a thought provoking piece for Lenny Letter questioning why she makes less than her male co-stars.

Women can no longer be just a qualifier to come before sequestered, echo-chamber conversations aimed only at women. The call to change the status quo, which has built businesses and industries where women’s leadership is an anomaly, must be heard far and wide. Women should be central to any conversation about business, culture, politics, technology, or film because we are not only consumers, we are (#1) makers — part of the process and essential to success in the 21st century.

3. Diversity. The implications of this word need to be kept front and center, but the practice of using diversity as a catch-all term sometimes strikes me as lazy. The word has become a blanket that muffles or renders irrelevant the more difficult, nuanced and thoughtful discussions of difference that represent the intersections we navigate daily along lines of gender (see #2), race, class, age and countless identities that are moored to these markers of diversity. In 2015 it became more evident than ever that the band-aid of diversity is no longer adequate. The word needs to be reimagined as a term that reflects, not conceals, its meaning.

4. Cities. When we talk about how we live today it’s impossible to ignore cities. We know more than half the world’s populations live in cities and that number is only going up. The danger is when the word city represents a static idea, one version of urbanity. Cities are ever-changing, their infrastructure, their populations, their governments, their regional and global identities are all in a constant state of reinvention, reinforcement and, in many cases, revitalization. The team behind Massive Small summed this up with the following statement:

We must recognise the city as a constantly changing organism, not a mechanistic model capable of highly processed control. Rather than seeking reassuring ideologies and absolutes, we should rely on collective intelligence to find our ‘timeless way of building’.

The city as an organizing principle has become a way of understanding the world and the future of business, the quality of life and the things people value like creativity, mobility, and (#3) diversity.

5. Disruption. With the ubiquity of Uber, Netflix and Airbnb it’s easy to forget that companies like these not so long ago ushered in a new wave of disruption. While this surely wasn’t the first year where talk of disruption reached a din, the term requires a new outlook as we head into 2016.

This year, we saw how the food chain of disruption has changed. We’ve seen companies emerge from their start-up chrysalis to become unicorns. When it comes to the sharing economy, (#4) cities and states are grappling with the legal and labor implications of these new businesses. Gone are the days of an old vs. new, small vs. big binary way of thinking. With the disruptors increasingly becoming the big guys, it’s a new terrain.

The term disruption implies an explosion, a ripping apart of the old way of doing things. But disruption shouldn’t be an end in itself, what follows in its wake is what really matters. The act of disruption, while it can shimmer with the promise of an unfettered, user-friendly, new way of doing things, can result in chaos if it’s not sensibly managed. And as disruptors reckon with the establishment they’ve had to acknowledge their own failure to disrupt the work environment that has led to a lack of adequate (#2) women or (#3) diversity in their ranks. In 2016 we all have a chance to embrace the momentum of disruption as we dare to imagine a world where things are done differently, we’ll all be better for it.

6. Harnessing. This word was plastered on billboards, worked into mission statements for notable non-profits, and touted — when the ability to do so was channeled to profitable ends — as a CEO’s greatest accolade. Perhaps the pervasiveness of this word speaks to the sense, especially pronounced this year, of having to grab hold of something and make it work for you.

Harnessing conjures many things. The act of harnessing a horse, implying your ability to tame and guide a wild animal. The ability to redirect something previously thought uncontrollable, and therefore unusable, like the wind or the power of the sun. Now we’ve mastered ways of harnessing the inherent power of these natural resources and redirected them to produce energy. Here’s to hoping that in 2016 we can harness the creativity of (#1) makers and the power of (#2) women and (#3) diversity to encourage (#6) disruption in the name of supporting the growth of our greatest (#5) cities.

7. Local. In our increasingly global and connected world there’s been a return, much like the impulse to place the handmade or one-of-a-kind on a pedestal (see #1), to the idea of local. Local implies human-scale, of-a-place. Small and essential. Something to belong to, learn from and build upon in a world that can sometimes whir away from us in a frenzy of global crises happening in far-away places. In 2016 I think we’ll force the opposing magnets of local and global further towards one another and recognize that in today’s world we have the opportunity to embody both. In fact it could be said one doesn’t exist without the other, and the success of the local will be the key to securing a global future that supports #1-#6.

8. Ecosystem. This word acknowledges the presence of a multitude of factors that affect an environment, both living and not. This year the term was trotted out, sometimes it felt to exhaustion, to describe the state of an industry or sector. The rise of this word though, reflects our increasing awareness that people, ideas, and economies are not singular entities that manifest out of thin air. Everything must be read within a context. The context is the ecosystem. When talking about a thriving tech ecosystem the conversation turns to things like education, a talent pipeline, infrastructure, real estate, community, branding. Any conversation around the dearth of women (#2) or diversity (#3) in tech should include an analysis of the ecosystem and should be addressed with solutions to these myriad factors. In 2016 I hope we’ll see this word invoked not as a confusing constellation of elements, but as a roadmap for how to support sustainable economies.

9. Innovation. In 2015, in my line of work the term innovation is unavoidable. It’s invoked to describe anything that goes against the grain, anything that attempts something new or untested. Innovation is the bread and butter of (#5) disruption. In government or business an innovative approach can be studded with thorns. After all, success requires trying something new, but when it’s never been done before how do you justify to your constituents, your taxpayers or your board members that it’s worth investing in? You call it innovation. The real work begins though, when this term goes from idea to actionable insight, when it has to drive choices and generate results. Let’s apply innovation more effectively in 2016 to address the work outlined in #1-#8.

10. Lists. Yes, this very thing. Far from the humble ‘to do’ lists we scrawl for ourselves, lists are increasingly used to organize our thinking and teach us about how to navigate our lives. Everything from to how to run our businesses, who to know, what to watch and listen to, how to eat well or travel smarter can be broken down into a list. Lists deliver humor, knowledge, easy step-by-step guides to improve and enrich our lives and organize the barrage of information we’re confronted with on a daily basis. They appear as clickbait on the bottom of screens when we know we should be powering down before bed. We’re told it’s a compelling way to tell a story because today our attention spans are better suited to consume snackable portions. Lists help us make sense of everything that’s transpired, and everything that hasn’t, over the last 12 months. They assign value and help us to remember, and, it’s my hope, to learn from the past in order to help us prepare for what’s to come.

May we all wield these words responsibly and thoughtfully in 2016.

Article a creative collaboration with Shaina Horowitz

About the Author: Katherine Oliver has long recognized the potential for media and technology to redefine the ways we communicate and foster the economic development of cities, citizens, and businesses. Guided by decades of experience in the private sector — where she launched and then managed Bloomberg LP’s international TV and radio operations — and the public sector — where for 12 years she served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg as New York City’s Commissioner of Media and Entertainment — Katherine is a founding principal of Bloomberg Associates, a New York-based consulting firm, through which she provides media and technology consulting services to cities worldwide.

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