Thursday, April 08, 2010

Does self promotion cause heart disease?

One of my favorite parts of Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers was the very first part about the town of Roseto, PA. People had discovered that the people of Roseto in the 1950s had some kind of super human trait of being able to NOT get heart disease.

Researchers studied this town like crazy. Was it the food, the weather, what? It turned out, the researchers surmised, that it was because of the culture of the town. It was because the town and everyone in it was extremely close knit. People cooking for neighbors. Everyone chatting with everyone else on the street. 3 generations of family living under one roof. And an "egalitarian ethos".

"They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the community, which discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures." - Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers

That doesn't sound like our world, especially in the US, at all.

Egalitarianism: "a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people." - Wikipedia.

Every day there's someone on places like Twitter or Hacker News mentioning the latest greatest thing that happened to them. Their latest book review, their latest multimillion dollar acquisition. Like Jason Fried mentioning in Inc that their company makes millions in profit. And us blogging about our BusinessWeek mention.

We do it to self promote. It's a big part of marketing ourselves. By mentioning these things we hope to raise our credibility for our potential clients, fans, readers, etc. A mention about how much money 37signals makes, just solidifies how well they know what they are doing, so you'll trust that they aren't bullshitting you in the book they want you to buy. Our BusinessWeek mention helps solidify for a potential client, "hey these guys aren't some folks fooling around with a website".

I completely see the non-evil benefits of doing this. I think our business is doing a lot of good for people. I absolutely know our blog has inspired some folks. But I also absolutely know it has the reverse effect on some others. A minority probably. But still a negative effect I wish it didn't.

I guarantee that someone who read our blog post about that BW mention, came away from it a little worse. A little more depressed about their lot in life. They looked at this, and was like, "uggh, why can't I achieve that. I work so damn hard at everything, and something like this is beyond my grasp".

I don't have a solution here. It's just a puzzling topic for me. I HATE BRAGGING. I'm super proud of what we do here, but I cringe a little bit anytime we mention something good that's going on. I recognize though that self-promotion seems important to marketing our businesses, but tries to completely tear down equality amongst others. "This good thing happened to us, so you should read my stuff, not theirs. You should buy my stuff, not theirs".

It's a consequence of capitalism probably? But also leads to stress, ills, and unhappiness that didn't exist in Roseto. Well, until Roseto became just like every other town years later.

How do you guys feel about this? Achieving egalitarianism and wanting it is probably just the same as trying to be socialist. Which clearly hasn't worked and has it's own problems. Any awesome examples of folks who have balanced being capitalist without having to be at all self-promoting?

Tom's Shoes might fall into that example a bit. I don't see that guy writing about how much money he makes, but rather the good they do for the world. Maybe he does bring up revenue somewhere, but that point seems to be lost amongst his greater point that his for-profit business exists to give away shoes.

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