Never has there been a time when a great idea, a job well done, or talent been enough on its own. Dues have to be paid, hours logged, and a stroke of luck – or good timing – has always been the basic recipe for success and advancement. Great hair also never hurt.
Today, genuinely created value and measured tenacity aren’t enough. It’s the noisemakers who win. Shameless self-promotion has become our Common Core.
Musicians are expected to get people to their casino gig and cultivate online fan groups. Employees seeking advancement either have to jump ship to get noticed or overshoot every target, preferably into the lap of a senior executive. Writers, especially in the advent of self-publishing, are required to spend more time pedaling then penning their masterpiece. Marketers are constantly trolling for new customer bases while beseeching their existing customer base to upgrade NOW. Soon our college applicants will be asked to submit a song and dance along with their essay. In the age of wine, dine and tweet, everyone needs their own personal marketing plan.
It’s a lot of racket. With so much choice and the lack of time and resource to sift through the real talent/best product/most worthy candidate, mediocrity prospers. Attention is a limited commodity and the loudest voices hold court. It's labor intensive to filter the message from the messenger. Some other things are lost with all this YOU, INC. noise.
First, it demotivates. Talented people understand positive motivation involves extrinsic reward or punishment. They are inherently adaptable because they know how to read what will resonate with their audience. However, nothing slows a person down quite like an arbitrary stick in the eye simply because your megaphone volume was turned down too low.
Secondly, there’s the ick factor. It doesn’t take too many conversations turned talking points for a gifted non-salesy person to feel like a fraud or a walking selfie using his or her most flattering filter. No one wants to be the guy who’s asking for the ball every time down the court. Talented people need to be ready for the pitch, but it’s hard to feel authentic – and virtually impossible to listen well – when you’ve been conditioned to treat every interaction as a marketing tactic or a play-by-play of your recent achievements that sniff of a bad combination of Tony Robbins and Gandhi.
Third, it takes time away from the real work. Valuable energy that could be poured into the work itself instead has to build Powerpoints and dinky dead-end websites and schedule meetings with busy people who will never see your actual work. Instead of the reasonable challenge of working in a competitive landscape, you’re surrounded by armies of able and more than a few incompetent people launching blind missives in hopes of landing an audience with Oprah or the next ice bucket challenge. The real work not only moves to the margins of your time, less of it gets done.
And finally, a few gems get overlooked. In a saturated market, you need more impressions. You can’t be heads down and expect that someone will notice even if you have a Matisse on your hands. Everyone needs to arbitrate for themselves sometimes, but you’ll never see the self-possessed or humble make that their primary goal. It’s like when a wave circles through a stadium, the true sports fan might join in the first time, maybe even the second time, but at some point, he’ll miss the wave and stay seated, eyes glued to the game. The work always means more than the circus around the work.