Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Build Your Reputation, neglect your job

Build Your Reputation: Grow Your Personal Brand for Career and Business Success Build Your Reputation: Grow Your Personal Brand for Career and Business Success by Rob Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bear in mind that most books like this are written by people with enough vision, insight and intelligence to have forged careers that enabled them to get their books published. If you’re stuck in a dead-end job, the chances are that you’re just not capable of these things, so the value of the advice is limited.

This is a book of two halves: the first is utter tosh; by the time I’d finished reading it I had already crafted an excoriating review, so I was a little disappointed that the second half showed a marked improvement.

It starts inauspiciously: “This playbook will propel you quickly to the top of your tree.” Such an implausible claim immediately puts the reader on guard. And what on earth is a ‘playbook’? Brown never uses the simple word ‘book’, so this distinction is clearly important to him. Oxford Dictionaries Online defines a playbook as: “NOUN, North American: A book containing a sports team's strategies and plays, especially in American football.”

My limited understanding of American Football is that the ‘plays’ are carefully structured manoeuvres lasting a few seconds at most. I can’t think of anything less appropriate as a metaphor for building a long-term reputation. And by rooting his imagery in a sport only played in his own country, he comes across as insular and parochial.

So we can ignore Chapter 1. Chapter 2 covers what a reputation actually is, and is so obvious that it can also be skipped. Chapter 3 describes what a career is, which again is glaringly obvious. It also contains the statement: “That’s why need a ticket to the game,” which is a terrible mistake in any book but especially one concerned with reputation. Attention to detail is important. Later on he urges you to look for “uniqueness in your core competences. That means any ‘me too’ comparisons that make you indistinguishable from your rivals”. If this drivel means anything, then it means the opposite of what the author wants to say.

Having accurately described the different kinds of fulfilment, Brown then states: “However you define the prize, only a few can lay their hands on it … Few people ever attain the power and satisfaction of a work-life dictated by their own choices and ambitions.” This is clearly nonsense. The world is full of people enjoying fulfilling careers. Believe it or not, it is possible to be satisfied without becoming a CEO and having your own private helicopter.

After a lot of exhorting and explaining the obvious, a fifth of the way through we get the first piece of practical advice. It’s not original. It’s the title of another book. But even that isn’t original. It’s a quote from comedian Steve Martin: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Got that? Great. Go out and do it. Just in case it never occurred to you that being good at your job might be the path to advancement.

Nearly a third of the way through the book, we’re still evaluating, looking for a starting point. If you’re going to improve your reputation, you need to find out what that reputation is now. Fair point. How do you go about that? Brown’s solution is simple: ask people. Just like Lieutenant Scheisskopf in Catch-22, asking his cadets if he’s doing anything wrong:

“I won’t punish you,” Lieutenant Scheisskopf swore.
“He says he won’t punish me,” said Clevinger.
“He’ll castrate you,” said Yossarian.
“I swear I won’t punish you,” said Lieutenant Scheisskopf. “I’ll be grateful to the man who tells me the truth.”
“He’ll hate you,” said Yossarian. “To his dying day he’ll hate you.”

But let’s say you’re a poor unfortunate cursed with colleagues who tell him the truth. You now know your Unique Value Proposition. How do you turn value into reputation? Brown has a clever strategy: “Communicate it.”

And that’s the real problem with the first half of this book. It doesn’t really go beyond saying, “Be brilliant and make sure people know about it,” without giving much practical advice.

But part two has a lot of practical advice – perhaps too much. To do everything the author says you should do isn’t just a full-time job; you’d have to hire staff. For instance, one of his “small, achievable goals” is to make ten phone calls before 10am, three days a week.

All this might build your reputation up, but it could be a reputation as a badgering, needy annoyance, while your colleagues only see someone who is transparently searching for their next job while neglecting their current one.

But Brown is right when he says that you need a plan and you need to be disciplined. Some of the strategies are unrealistic for anyone who isn’t already successful, but if you have the clarity of thought and the discipline to carry your plans out, then part two of this book could be a real help. If you’re a bit of a failure but are motivated to do something about it, you’ll probably still be a failure, but you’ll fail better.

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