Self promotion really gets a bad rap.
Exhibit A: Timothy Ferriss
From an Amazon review of Timothy Ferriss’ bestselling The 4-Hour Workweek: “His shameless self-promotion and braggadicious style is second only to the undisputed champion of the genre, Donald Trump.” Ouch.
Exhibit B: Nikola Tesla vs.Thomas Edison
These were two of the most prolific inventors of the late 19th and 20th centuries, who were bitter rivals. Who is better known today, Tesla or Edison? Ask 100 people who invented the light bulb, and probably 95 of them will say Thomas Edison. Ask 100 people who invented the power system that lights that same light bulb when you flick a switch, and you will be lucky to have 1 person name Tesla. The difference is that Edison was a self-promoter and Tesla was not.
Exhibit C: Muhammad Ali
One of the greatest boxers of all time, stated, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”, when referring to himself as the greatest boxer ever. And back it up he did.
Exhibit D: Usain Bolt
Usain Bolt and his team won the 4 x 100 meter relay at the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 11th, breaking a world record in the process. He announced to the world that he is a legend. Bob Costas commented, “It is harder to have a higher opinion of Usain Bolt than he has of himself.” Well said, Bob.
Is self-promotion a bad thing? Are self-promoters bad people? I am of the opinion that if you do not promote yourself, no one is going to do it for you. One of my early failures in business in the late 1980’s came in expecting to be recognized for my hard work and dedication. As an assistant manager, I found myself passed over for promotion several times without justification, at least in my eyes. The people who were promoted were the people who put themselves in positions to be noticed. I, on the other hand, was a horrible self-promoter, expecting that my efforts would be recognized. Sadly, the “if you work hard, you will be rewarded” myth is one that still permeates our labor force. Hard work and dedication are just parts of the formula for success. Just look at Tesla’s life and you will see what I mean. His inability to sell himself to the world relegated him to second fiddle behind Thomas Edison.
There are two sides to this coin and I believe there is something to be said for humility. I consider myself a pretty humble person and I think most people who know me would agree. Even when I say, “Yeah, I know I’m great”, I am saying it in a dry, deadpan style. The act of being humble, which should not be confused with submission, is not an easy thing to do.
I am going to step out on a limb here and state that self-promotion is a very good thing, when tempered with humility. It is a really good thing. Timothy Ferriss is promoting himself, because as a writer, he is his own brand. Edison promoted himself and his ideas so that he could make enough money to get back to the lab and create more cool stuff with his staff. Ali proved that he was one of the greatest, and by the time he had stated it, he had earned the right to call himself the greatest. Bolt stepped over that line in claiming that he is a legend, which is a title received from others, not bestowed upon oneself. Now that was shameless.
If, as entrepreneurs and independent consultants, we do not promote ourselves and our brands with the same energy and enthusiasm as the finest self-promoters, then we are doomed to be passed by those who are willing and able to do so, even by people of lesser skill and ability. Once more:
If you do not promote yourself, no one will do it for you.
If you can successfully promote yourself, your company, and your cause, then I believe you can do great things. If the haters call you shameless, then so be it. Self promoters move the world.