Clay Shirky is an accomplished designer, professor, writer, theoretician, and Daily Show guest. His students from NYU have succeeded in every corner of the digital world, and he was an authority on social networking long before it was fashionable or professionally desirable to be one. People listen to what he says, as they should.
But he’s got an interesting post on his personal blog that says something interesting: Women should act more like men if they want to be successful. He offers several, anecdotal examples from his own experiences in the classroom and in the workplace. Time and again, he says, women are not successful because they’re not willing to lie, con, and most importantly, “behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.”
The message from this rant, though, doesn’t have to be couched in sexual politics to be interesting or helpful. What you ought to be taking from it as a Made Man is this: If you want to get ahead, you’ve got to the be the one to push yourself ahead. And the way to do that is not to be modest.
“I sat in the office of someone I admired and feared, someone who was the gatekeeper for something I wanted, and I lied to his face.”
Shirky retells how he got himself into a drafting class he wanted to take with little or no skill for drawing or drafting. When asked if he had skill, though, he quickly realized he couldn’t admit to not having the skills because the instructor would have sluiced him into a different class that he would’ve been better-suited for. However, Shirky knew he could work extra hard and backup his lie in order to get himself ahead. When you’re getting your foot in the door, over-promise, then deliver. A good rule of thumb for cover letters, interviews, and first dates, is to be 80% truthful and 20% cocky. In fact, one of the best cover letters we’ve ever read was from a Mademan.com fan that wanted to write for our site, and we found out later it adhered to the above mathematical proportions.
“…self-promotion will be a skill that produces disproportionate rewards”
This is because many of the situations in which self-promotion is particularly useful are situations in which accurate information is difficult to come by. In professional and personal situations, people often judge you with very few facts on hand. What’s the easiest source for your new date to find out if you’re a nice guy? You are. How is a prospective employer going to know if you’re are proficient in team-building? They’re certainly not going to have you build a team in 10 minutes at the end of their interview. The more you promote yourself in these situations, the more success you are likely to have in them.
“Not caring works surprisingly well.”
The other side of the coin to self-promotion is a healthy dose of “so what?” attitude. Many people (more women than men, Shirky argues), will refuse to show their work to peers and superiors deciding instead to simply “wait for someone to recommend them.” Without a fear of rejection or failure, you will typically try things you’re not qualified for, and sometimes, you’ll succeed. This works especially well for asking for a raise – something many companies don’t have standardized procedures for dealing with.