Microspeak: move the needle


The phrase move the needle is part of general business jargon, but it is very popular here at Microsoft. You need to know what it means, and more importantly, you need to be willing to throw it around yourself in order to sound more hip and with-it.

In general business speak, move the needle means generates a reaction, but at Microsoft, it has the more general sense of provide a perceptible improvement.

The metaphor here is that there is some sort of meter, like a speedometer or VU meter. Back in the old days, these meters were analog rather than digital, and they consisted of a calibrated arc with a needle that pointed at the current value.

To move the needle is to have a noticeable effect, presumably positive.

Here are some citations.

It's clear that we will need to make some additional improvements if we are to move the needle on performance for customers with high traffic.

By investing in this solution we move the needle forward on reducing friction and increasing speed to measurable value.

That second one wins the buzzword award for today.

Comments (11)
  1. sehe says:

    Gosh. I assumed it would refer to a record-player, where "moving the needle" is the action of freeing up the needle if it gets stuck in a groove.

    That's actually a more powerful vision to me, and a more rare skill among management.

    Anybody can make an effect (at a cost).

    Not anybody can _move the needle_ (as in: get things into the right groove, moving with forward momentum again)

    I'm strangely sad that it was not that.

  2. John Doe says:

    Needless to say, but what must one do to get his needle moved?

    I'm talking about performance and raises, Of Course™.

  3. AC says:

    My head hurts reading the second citation, especially as a foreign language speaker.

    It certainly brings that cute little IBM advertisement* to mind (about b*** bingo), which I loved watching. Although ironically enough, I bet they are even worse at the whole buzzword thing.

    *) I'm not sure if they aired that advertisement globally or only in Germany.

  4. sehe says:

    @AC I'm surprised. I thought IBM spoke exclusively in catalog numbers and registration codes.

    [THIS SECTION INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK]

  5. AC says:

    @sehe: Yes, That's why I said it's ironic such an ad would come from them.

    Here's a Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch

    I hope this is not against the ground rules. If so, please remove it.

  6. Jim says:

    How would you say move the needle in an opposite way?

  7. Sean Liming says:

    The opposite way would be "stop the needle"

  8. meh says:

    @Jim. I would say 'dial it back a bit'. Or just dial it back.

  9. Drak says:

    "By investing in this solution we move the needle forward on reducing friction and increasing speed to measurable value."

    Meaning that at the moment we have a product so slow we can't measure its speed? Ouch ;)

  10. Boris says:

    @sehe: but you can always riff on it and "_lift_ the needle" instead.

  11. Harvey Pengwyn says:

    I had always assumed it meant getting a positive reaction as in getting applause causing the needle to be moved on the 'clapometer' on a game show – en.wikipedia.org/…/Clap-o-meter

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