Thursday, May 22, 2014
So this article was published in the Globe and Mail today – or at least was on their website; I don’t know if it actually made it into their print publication, but I can only hope it didn’t, because it’s basically the worst advice ever, albeit a conveniently concise summary of what’s pretty much wrong with the world.
“Want to be the most interesting person around?” its author queries via the headline; “start with these 7 steps.” He then basically proceeds to tell you how to be an insincere, self-absorbed asshole.
That this would be the ultimate outcome is pretty much made clear by the article’s fourth sentence: “In a noisy world where personal branding is a professional imperative and where we constantly compete with equally qualified rivals for clients, jobs, promotions, assignments or funding, not to mention admiration and affection, being just a little more interesting and memorable can be the deciding factor in our favor,” he writes – as if this presumption that life is nothing more than one big, drawn-out pissing contest is just some sort of axiomatic fact.
This gives a pretty clear indication of the author’s world view – i.e. that only the fittest survive, that you have to eat or be eaten, that the big dog rules the pack, etc. It’s basically jock logic: that life really isn’t much different than [insert sport of choice here] – and therefore, by extension, those with overactive pineal glands and a naturally adversarial demeanour are inherently more likely to succeed at it (which is a rather self-serving, “when-all-you’ve-got-is-a-hammer-every-problem-looks-like-a-nail” sort of thing).
That the author’s personal philosophy doesn’t seem to be more nuanced than the sort of slogans you might find emblazoned on, say, a Nike t-shirt isn’t that surprising though; those slogans, after all, are part of the way companies position their brands, and that’s clearly how the author sees himself: as a brand. This is just a “professional imperative”, after all – because reducing yourself to something simple, consistent, and easily understood is apparently what the market wants. I wouldn’t dispute that; but his uncritical implication that this is somehow acceptable, even desirable, is completely insane.
Take, by way of illustration, what the author believes this must entail – his seven rules “for those who want to up their game with some new skills and behaviors” (there’s that sport metaphor again – and is it just me, or is it eerily inhuman the way he refers to “behaviors” as if they’re some sort of accessory with which you can soup-up your “product”?)
Number one, he writes: “Master conversational skills.” This “is a key competency for successful client pitches, board room presentations, management meetings and the myriad hallway conversations that influence major business decisions”; “to get better at it, widen your interests and learn about anything from current events to local issues. Keeping conversations balanced by showing sincere interest in others is critical.” Yet this would seem to be a case of completely insincere interest in others, since it is ultimately only in aid of your own professional advancement. Nonetheless, he appears to have actually written this without any trace of irony.
Bro-tip #3: “cultivate a reputation of expertise.” Why? Because “experts are in demand. Turn on any television channel and you can watch a parade of authorities in various domains give their perspective on healthcare, airline security, the economy and climate change, to name a few.” In other words, experts have high visibility; you can increase your visibility by becoming an “expert.” This just seems to be another way of saying “promote yourself/your brand [because the two are synonymous and inseparable] whenever you can.” Or, basically, “get other people to be as into you as you are into yourself. Always think about yourself and how you can get others to think about yourself. Be self-absorbed.” Furthermore, he writes, “if you’re more of a generalist, find ways to go deep into a subject matter that can benefit others, and share that information where needed.” I.e., even if you’re not really an expert, work to cultivate the reputation that you are, because that way it will be easier to manipulate people into supporting your brand. This is the advice of a psychopath.
Bro-tip #4: “Build relationships and connect with people.” I have nothing against this piece of advice, and it may be the sole redeeming statement of the whole article. However, he then goes on to say that “in a recent executive coaching survey, CEOs mentioned ‘conflict-management skills’ as their top priority. Being able to help others resolve disputes and conflicting agendas is not just an asset in the C-suite”. Terms like “the C-suite” are for d-bags and a-holes.
Rule #5 is “build relationships and connect with people.” Yet he somehow manages to take this fundamental act of being human and perverts it into yet another fiat of corporate pep-talk: “Being an interesting person helps in building and managing relationships, but the reverse is also true. If we actively engage others, by, for example, inviting someone to lunch, involving a co-worker in a project, asking for a favor, offering support, or sincerely inquiring how someone is doing, we not only become visible, we become relevant. That’s the foundation of mutually gratifying relationships.” I have always been of the impression that things like love or respect, not visibility and relevance, are the foundations of mutually gratifying relationships. This sounds more like the foundation of a mutually gratifying corporate merger.
His #6 rule: “Engage in active listening.” Much like tips #1 and 3, this is not so much because active listening is good per se, but because the perception others may hold of you as an active listener can be to your advantage.
#7: “Live and share experiences.” This, because “‘life is best lived inside, behind a desk,’ said no one, ever” – and, of course, because your stories about those experiences are really just another arrow in your quiver of self-marketing strategies. It’s this kind of memetic, web-culture referentiality, (w/r/t “said no one, ever”), along with the use of B.Comm buzzwords like “decision-makers who can green-light a project” (from tip #2) and the aforementioned use of “C-suite”, that leads me to suspect this whole piece was probably written by someone “cultivating the reputation of an expert”, i.e. probably someone young enough to believe their own bullshit. In fact, when you break it down, the whole piece is essentially premised on the naive sort of idealized, ultra-rational models of “human life” you come across in an undergrad business class – it reads like someone giving advice they feel should be true/applicable, but which they in fact do not actually have the practical experience to verify as so. There’s also such a strong emphasis on perception, image manipulation, and brand; this alone suggests it was written by someone from the ultra-image-conscious Facebook generation. The Dos Equis ad reference that the whole thing starts with would also support that – it’s exactly the sort of click-bait that would appeal to a younger demographic, i.e. the sort of people who are actually at risk of taking this article seriously. As for the rest of us, well, I suppose we now have a pretty good list of what not to do.