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#295 – Parabolisms

15 April, 2022

a person holds a laptop with the parabol logo on it

Touch base. Circle back. New normal. Drill down. Table that.

These are some of the most hated business buzzwords. And yet we’ve all heard them before in offices or even *gasp* used them ourselves at one time or another.

And as hated as those terms are, they represent a distinct corporate culture. One that conjures up images of beige PC monitors, faded carpets, instant coffee in plastic cups, and spiky-haired managers. 

Language is a tool we use to make sense of the world around us. It creates and shapes the cultures we live in. It helps form our shared reality.

So it follows logically that company cultures are shaped as much by language as by practices.

Different words for a different world

When working in a fully-distributed, async-first company, company culture sounds different. Especially when you add a dash of 🌶️ spicy 🌶️ holacracy sauce into the mix.

The ingredients of the culture are different, so the language is as well.

Parabolisms are the words and phrases that make our culture distinctly… ours.

And like any culture, it takes some getting used to.

More than once, someone has joined the company and asked: “Why the heck is everyone talking about tension all the time!? What even is that?”

6 commonly used Parabolisms

Here are a few things you might hear around Parabol’s Slack, Loom videos, sync meetings, or on our open source GitHub repo:

  1. 👍 “Safe to try” – This is one of Parabol’s core values and forms a part of our daily lingo. Someone’s asking for an opinion on a thing, another might respond: “sounds safe to try”.
  2. 🧭 “Let your tension be your guide” – Parabol uses participatory governance. This means anyone can make changes to the way we work. You may hear someone say “let your tension be your guide” if you’re not sure what to do about something. It’s a reminder that if your “tension” around a topic or issue is high enough, you have the power to do something about it.
  3. 💬 “What do you need?” / “Did you get what you need?” – Every week we run Parabol’s check-in meeting, which is our version of Holocracy’s “tactical meeting”. For all agenda or “triage” items the facilitator will ask “what do you need?” and then end the agenda item by asking “did you get what you need?” The meeting helps get people what they need to unblock their work.
  4. 🍿 “I can’t see any more popcorn popping!” – In our bi-weekly retros we drink our own champagne by using our own retrospective tool! As team members write reflections, small rainbow tiles come up (see here). These are the proverbial pieces of popcorn (try saying that quickly five times in a row). When the chits stop dancing, it means people have stopped writing. The facilitator will often say “I can’t see any more popcorn popping”, before moving the meeting ahead.
  5. 🧐 “Clarifying question” – A principle we try to live and work by is “seek to understand before being understood”. Clarifying questions are a way of making sure you understand someone’s idea or point of view fully before jumping in and expressing your own. Clarifying questions do not introduce new ideas or suggestions: “have you considered X or Y instead?”. They only seek to clarify. You may hear people announce “clarifying question:” before asking something. This helps the other party understand the intent behind the question. Using this framework helps prevent people feeling misunderstood at work.
  6. 🚘 “Don’t hit the brakes, steer the wheel” – A resilient team is one that can function well even when things go wrong or team leads are absent. When there’s an urge to wait for someone to return from vacation before taking action, someone might say “don’t hit the brakes, steer the wheel”. This phrase encourages members to keep moving projects forward rather than slowing down or stalling. Not everything needs “approval” or “consent” to keep moving ahead.

Honourable mentions 🏅

There are many other oddities and pieces of terminology that have emerged at Parabol.

Some notable runners up:

“Be the change”, “even over”, “is it a feature or a bug?”, “hamsters in the pipes”, “mega-grouper”, “let’s take it async”, “spicy”, “toss me a task”, “batting practice”, “members” (instead of employees), “between us chickens”, “razor”, “S.P.A.”, “jamming”, “deals deals deals”, Wayne Gretzky’s “skate to where the puck is going”, and perhaps most importantly, “if you see a piece of trash, pick it up”.

Not all of these phrases are unique to us, but they form a part of our culture.

Our language evolves as our culture does

Our company language will evolve over time, as new people from other national, linguistic, and company cultures join, and others leave.

But only time will tell whether the next generation look back on these terms and groan.

A bit like we do when someone asks us to “touch base”.


Monthly web sessions and new users were down this week as registered users and monthly actives continued to climb. We’re now seeing some of the benefits of moving to WordPress, with our desktop site reaching a score of 100 on Google’s page speed insights. Meetings run were down slightly this week, likely due to the Easter holidays that are celebrated in many countries.

This week we…

published a resource of 300+ Agile and Scrum statistics. This the single most comprehensive source of Agile and Scrum data on the whole of the interwebs.

shipped Version 6.54.0. This included some bug fixes and some of the groundwork for our next meeting type! See the changelog here.

Next week we’ll…

welcome our Exco team back from their retreat this week in New Orleans. More on that next week! 

continue working with candidates on their batting practice projects, and move some other folks through our hiring pipeline.

Gareth Davies

Gareth Davies

Gareth is the Content Lead at Parabol. He has spent his career helping people and organizations around the world communicate better. He likes learning languages, cycling, and journalling. He originally hails from Wales, but lives and works in Munich, Germany.

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