Home > Social Business, Technology > The Long Tail of the Personal Brand

The Long Tail of the Personal Brand

June 28, 2014

Fernando's logoLately it seems we are surrounded – sometimes aggressively so – by advice that we must build our “personal brand”.  Like pretty much anyone in my business I have accounts (mostly unpaid) on sites like The Ladders and of course LinkedIn.  The regular emails I get from these sites constantly exhort me to promote the new-and-improved Salazar through my own brand.  The Ladders tells me:

 

Besides a marriage proposal, your value in the job market is probably the most important product you’ll ever sell.  … Your brand is what you’re known for and what you’re known for knowing. Use that to your advantage in making a career transition.

Great work-life-balance point they make there about marriage, which apparently in the eyes of The Ladders is also about selling.  Meanwhile the folks at LinkedIn offer this #1 tip on building a personal brand:

#1: Be authentic. The best personal brands are genuine and honest both in person and online. It can be tricky to showcase your personality on the web (you might love puns, but those don’t go over well on a professional profile), but it’s possible with a bit of effort.

Or, as Oliver Stone wrote in Nixon, “Nothing sells like sincerity.”

What occasions these observations is an article in the Times, The Self-Promotion Backlash.  The article is itself an observation on a new book, “Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion,” by David Zweig.  Just got this for my Kindle, and after only a few pages of the intro its thesis is crystal clear: Vastly more economic output is generated by “invisible” non-self-promoters than by all the glad-handing, like-me-on-Facebooking, personal-branding addicts that seem to be surging ahead everywhere we look.  One of the first examples Zweig talks about are fact-checkers, in his case at the CIA: pretty obviously essential, and pretty obviously invisible.

In the high-tech industry, because we make the tools that allow all this personal branding in the first place, we’re expected to use them and to do so loudly and often.  How bizarre that software engineers, one of the most introverted, invisible occupations you’re likely to find, get marked down because they are insufficiently “visible”.  This is sales culture run amuck.  Look, sales and sales-people – love ‘em, need ‘em, all that – but the cultural needs of engineering are vastly different from sales.  Back in the day, the men and women I most respected hardly ever spoke.  They were valued for their knowledge and their ability to show and tell novices, as I was, what to do to turn out good code.

I’m afraid nostalgia is an inevitable product of age, and for that I apologize.  But, if we did a 1 week ban on self-promotion, what would happen?  Quality go up? Output go up?  An impractical experiment of course … still, can’t help but wonder.

I’ll leave you all with this, the most influential drum-line is all the history of rock and roll, Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks.  It wasn’t created by drummer John Bonham, or Zeppelin lead guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, but by a recording engineer – and an invisible – named Andy Johns.  Enjoy.

  1. June 29, 2014 at 6:48 am

    Bravo!

    Related: did you see Jill Lepore’s takedown of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” in The New Yorker of June 23?

    • June 29, 2014 at 10:13 am

      Yes, I did see that, about how Christiansen cherry-picks his cases. Out of all the management bestsellerscof past 10 years or so my favorite is “Built to Last”, by Jim Collins. The main message there is that at his set of companies, all long-lived, consistent performers, the CEOs are almost “invisibles”, in that they concentrate on what is important and not on mindless puffed-up promotion.

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