Monday, December 22

Toiling Over Titles: Everybody Online


Reflecting on last week's post, Chris Brogan noted that some people questioned his journalistic integrity even though he is not a journalist. But what struck me about his post, and the comments that followed, is a lesson learned 12 years ago.

What's In A Title?

Absolutely nothing.

For Chris, maybe he learned it last week (maybe sooner, I don't know). For me, it was while overseeing a statewide literacy benefit. As the event chair, I had an opportunity to meet both outgoing Gov. Bob Miller and incoming Gov. Kenny Guinn. One introduction seemed smooth; the other, not so much.

Afterward, a colleague and mentor of mine asked me which introduction went better. So I told him, along with my rationale.

Copywrite, Ink. was founded as a sole proprietorship in 1991. In 1996, we became a C corporation. For the team and me, the incorporation was a pretty big deal. Personally, it also meant I didn't "grant" myself the title "president." In the short course of five years, I earned the title as well as the address inside the Bank of America building in downtown Las Vegas (we've moved several times since).

When I spoke with Gov. Miller, I presented myself in exactly that way — as president of a fast-growing corporation. But when I spoke with then Gov.-Elect Guinn, we spoke mostly about my early work as a freelancer and as a sole proprietor. From my perspective, one conversation was delivered with confidence; the other with uncertainty.

"I have news for you," said my colleague. "They both went well and they were the same. They didn't see the president of Copywrite, Ink. or a freelance writer (as I was then, with support staff). They only saw Rich Becker."

While there are a great many people who will disagree with it, the lesson was well-learned. People are neither titles nor are people what they do (eg. visit a Four Seasons and you'll see a hotel manager is equally likely to flip a cushion).

How Titles Apply.

Without going into too much detail (some things are best left for other projects), appreciating that titles don't mean anything at all has served me pretty well. It's helped me connect on a human level with some of the world's wealthiest men during interviews (you'd be surprised how many journalists are intimidated by their subjects), and hopefully kept me human and approachable (I have half dozen or so titles on any given day).

For me, if it wasn't for search terms, I wouldn't mention any of them. In fact, the next time we print business cards, I'm leaving the labels, er, titles off entirely. They matter to me about as much the number of people someone employs, awards they've won, or, for the online crowd, the number of followers they have. Sure, we have those numbers if people care to have them, but they don't mean much beyond a context.

Playing With Labelers.

It's also why, even though some people disagreed with my take on Chris Brogan or even Forrester for that matter, I tried to be balanced among several perspectives. In one case, I only saw the situation (with Brogan just happening to be at the center of it). In the other, I only saw a study with missing components (that were later added in via a blog post). In both cases, it could have been anyone.

It also helps me decide who I read online. After a few months or more, you can get a sense of who feels entitled by their labels, er, titles, or whatever other buzz words mean something to them. They also tend to be the same people who call other people names or demand credentials anytime their ideas are challenged.

"Who are you?" "What study will back you up?" or "Why I haven't I heard of you before?" they demand from others while resorting to name-calling and judgments with an impecuniousness of character (sometimes puffing up their own credits in the process).

Yeah, I know that trick too. When the ideas can't stand on their own, toss some weight behind them with a long list of "fill in the blank." You know what? As an online participant, never feel obliged to answer these charges because the question reveals less about you and more about them. Of course, I sometimes make exceptions for sport.

"Which titles, accounts, relationships, and awards interest you?" I ask them. After all, at that point, it's all about them anyway.

For everyone else, I'm just me. My name is Rich. Nice to meet you too.

7 comments:

Kevin Goodman on 12/22/08, 10:57 AM said...

Rich, what a great post. This goes right in hand with the book I am reading "The Case for Greatness: Honorable Ambition and it's critics" by Robert Faulkner. I admit that I have bullied an argument or two (perhaps even countless) on credentials that really have no relevance. I am striving harder and harder these days to be first and foremost a good person and to be worthy of what I seek. It's still hard not to get caught up in ones own image and the ever present faux mirages that society is so easy to accept.

Best Wishes Kevin

Alan on 12/22/08, 11:00 AM said...

Bravo. One of the things I really like about working at the library is the 'we're all in this together' and no tasks are 'beneath' anyone culture. Our Managing Librarian is on occasion seen emptying the book drops or checking returned materials in, and even we lowly Pages are at times allowed to pull items pending (materials requested to be Held for a particular patron) and to help patrons locate the materials they want. Imho, we as a team provide our patrons with Much better service than the title-bound types of organizations you describe.

Lauren Vargas on 12/22/08, 11:23 AM said...

Brilliant..."reveals less about you and more about them" is quite accurate. Life lessons move from playground to online.

Bonnie Parrish-Kell on 12/22/08, 12:21 PM said...

I was told once that no one would take me seriously with "Chief Rabbit" as a part of my title. In reality, I believe it's an asset: it's helped me break the ice in business settings and convey that having a sense of lightheartedness is important in business.

As you so eloquently said, it's the confidence you have in yourself that says more about you than any label or title. The folks who get hung up on titles probably can't truly see the real person behind them and, sadly, the potential that person could bring to their world.

Very cool and relevant post, Rich.

"Hoppy" Holidays ;)
Bonnie

Kevin Goodman said...

Rich

I was thinking and in contrast with my last comment, there is a vice. As you know, authority is a major dynamic in persuasion.Even blind authority by a population that would even deny that - the Milgram experiment. It's old but I know many other experiments even recent ones back up the assertion that people look to titles and symbols of status and treat appearences differently - even as the consciously deny this behavior.

Moralisticly you are right. In fairness many people don't trust there own critical thinking and would rather be told than analyze for themselves (and they would deny that). What to do?

Anonymous said...

Rich

I also wanted to mention the fact that titles can have legal implications. Such as the instance of 'acting as a corporation' - a requirement for maintaining limited liability.

LOL - sorry Rich, I am obessed today. It's midnight here in Gdank. Believe it or not I was actually almost asleep and I this thought hit my like a train.

Best wishes Kevin

Rich on 12/24/08, 7:29 AM said...

@Kevin

Sorry I could not respond sooner. Yesterday was all about the desktop. :P But it all flies now!

Authority IS a major dynamic in persuasion, but authority is as man made as are titles. No man or woman is better than another. If people can only remember that, then experiments like those Milgram did would fail.

What to do? If we were on the Poseidon Adventure, I recommend using logic and then following Gene Hackman up the Christmas tree. Hmm... now that may make a nice follow up piece someday.

@Alan

That is the best work environment all around! Anyone who work has ever worked with me finds a similar experience, which comes from leading dozens of ad hoc teams where the people "in charge" have diverse backgrounds and titles.

No matter what the role, it's critical to recognize their input and contributions because otherwise it would be less than.

@Bonnie

If I had a dollar for every time someone who didn't have a "title" made more sense than those who do, I'd already be retired. Well, not really. I love my job too much. ;)

@Lauren

Thank so you very much for such a splendid complement.

Thank you all for contributing. Much like any post, the comments add so much to what proceeds it.

All my best,
Rich

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