7 Unassuming Business Acronyms That Just Might Improve Your Life

Let’s be honest — industry acronyms are terrible.

When I first entered the corporate world as an intern, a friend and fellow sufferer of jargon-overload sat down to write a list of the most popular acronyms within our division. She had 40+ down in about two minutes.

We promised ourselves never to become “that guy” (or gal) who had forgotten how to translate industry language into plain English, but as we relaxed into our careers, it became tough.

I still find most of them annoying at best, but a few have stuck with me. I’ll occasionally let one slip in casual conversation, and I catch myself advocating for the concepts they are meant to convey. The horror!

Hesitant as I am to admit it, some of these concepts did change my outlook on life, and not just in a work context. Read at your own risk — there’s no going back.

1. KPI or “Key Performance Indicator”

Who among us isn’t seeking opportunities for self improvement? Whether we are trying to absorb more nonfiction or simply get ourselves up in the morning without four hundred alarms, setting a goal is not enough to guarantee success. It’s important to track progress at every step. This seems easy enough, but if we’re tackling multiple things at once, or there are several ways to reach a goal, what do we track? This is where KPIs come into play. In business, when many inputs affect an output, a Key Performance Indicator is chosen to track progress. But choosing a KPI can be tricky — if the wrong indicator is chosen, you may end up without tangible improvement, or worse, going in the wrong direction.

Let’s say you want to learn Spanish. You’ve heard that a great way to absorb a new language is to watch TV in that language. So you decide that your KPI will be minutes spent each week watching Telenovelas (with subtitles — baby steps!) After a month of watching two hours per week, you notice your conversational Spanish isn’t any better. What went wrong? You may have chosen the wrong KPI. A better strategy may have been to attend a Spanish language meetup once a week. Your new KPI could be conversation length. Buena suerte!

2. SMART or “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely”

Goal setting is an undeniably important thing. If you’re serious about changing your life in any way, framing your goal correctly is almost as important as the activity that follows. If you’ve been through a performance appraisal in recent years you have probably rolled your eyes at SMART goals, but the framework can be a powerful tool in a personal context.

Critics of the SMART framework say that requiring goals to be “achievable” and “realistic” is deflating, and keeps employees from reaching for the stars. But on an individual level it’s far more likely that we (privately) set a goal to lose 10 pounds in a month, only to give up, frustrated and hungry, three weeks later. It’s healthy to take a step back and evaluate whether our goals are realistic. In our personal lives we don’t need a manager to sign off — it’s all on us. If we fail, we only disappoint ourselves. It may be time to SMART-en up.

3. OC or “Opportunity Cost”

Opportunity Cost is one of those terms that can sound vague and elitist. It comes directly from the field of Microeconomics, which has enough intimidating acronyms without crossover to the corporate world, but OC is a concept which can help you make every decision of the day with greater clarity.

Opportunity cost is defined as “the money or other benefits lost when pursuing a particular course of action instead of a mutually-exclusive alternative.” As college tuition skyrockets, a high school grad planning her next move might not think about the four years of money-making opportunity she may be giving up in hopes of making up the difference later (after student loans), but this is one example of her opportunity cost. Next time you’re faced with a tough decision, think to yourself “what am I really giving up if I go this route? How else can I spend my time/money/energy?”

4. WIG or “Wildly Important Goal”

In an age where incremental change is expected and everything is measured, tracked, and analyzed to death, it’s hugely important not only to dream big, but to do so with energy and focus. Every company wants to meet their Q3 forecast — but how does that forecast build toward the high-level strategic vision?

Competition on an individual level is as stiff as it is in the corporate world. So you want that job. How will it get you closer to your wildest dream? If the connection is not obvious, it may be time to re-evaluate your life’s trajectory.

5. FIFO or “First-in, First-out”

FIFO is mostly an accounting concept, but embracing “first-in, first-out” as a principle to live by can bring a level of calm that only originates from discipline. In summary? Do the work now. Procrastinating, even on the small things, can cause real problems. Ever put off a credit card bill only to get slapped with a late fee? Not fun. Parents all over are rightly fond of the phrase “never put off ’til tomorrow what can be done today”.

Yes mom.

6. VAT or “Value-added Tax”

Of all acronyms on this list, VAT is probably the least unassuming. Jet-setters will be familiar with this one, and it’s a pain. VAT is a tax “placed on a product whenever value is added at a stage of production and at final sale”. A tax placed when value is created. Organizations collecting VAT are not shy about requiring payment when value has been added, but we as individuals often are.

In relationships, at work — we often discount our value. Sometimes we do it because we don’t know how or what to ask for, but sometimes this behavior is driven by lack of self-esteem. We are often our own harshest critics, and when we don’t believe our output is worthy, we are unlikely to expect the same respect we would give others.

Don’t be scared to acknowledge your value and collect what you are owed.

7. QC or “Quality Control”

The concept of quality control is well-understood, but within an organization (especially a manufacturer) QC does not just ensure outputs are up to par. There is something called Incoming Quality Control, or “the process of controlling quality of the materials and parts for manufacturing a product before production begins”.

If you want to build a house, you want the best possible materials and you want to get what you pay for. The importance of incoming QC for large projects is obvious, but evaluating your everyday routines and eliminating shoddy tools can give you a huge boost. Do you have a reliable alarm clock? Are you wearing good shoes that will last more than one season? Will your commuter mug keep your coffee warm and your car clean throughout your whole morning? Many of us seek good deals and look to pay as little as possible for everyday items, but when we deal with low quality daily, when we cannot depend on all of our little tools for modern life, it’s time to evaluate whether the “great deal” is truly worth the frustration.

Make sure your internal QC is not neglecting incoming inspection. Your car, your house, and your peace of mind will thank you for it.