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Playing Defense: Pride versus Ego


When it comes to playing Defense, the opponent is yourself.  Here, paradox pops up again.  As it will, endlessly, in the tussle to win bizness victories.  Paradox:  have pride with no ego.

Pride gives strength;  ego, weakness.

Pride relates to self-perception.  Ego relates to others’ perception of you.

Pride walks; ego talks.

More paradox.  Winning biz championships requires mastering the social game.  It would seem, then, that we must care about what others think of us, as ego compels.  The truth, and paradox, is, the more we care about ourselves, and the less we care about others’ opinions of ourselves, the stronger our social status.  And elevating our situational status puts points on the board.

Pride truly motivates the player to up his or her game:  personal appearance, physical health, intellectual depth, charisma, charm, positivity, etc.  All steps Wannabes must take to escape the apathy of noobism.  Ego motivates the player to explain to others, errrrrrr, brag, how he is not a Noob or Wannabe but a true Boss.  Bragging grosses people out and has the (paradoxical) effect of lowering status in a lame attempt to elevate status.

I exploit ego weakness mercilessly.  Upwardly mobile execs display this weakness the most.  They’ve experienced some success.  Their career trajectory has inflected and is accelerating.  Adrenaline flows through their workday.  They feel they are winning the game.  They are little bosses projecting themselves forward into the Big Boss they are 100% confident they know they will become.

I roll into happy hour.  There he is, posted up at the St Regis bar, spitting at some hotties.  Its an industry trade show. Competitive spirits are juiced.  Drinks are poured, the conversational volume steadily rising.  I’m introduced:  strong eye contact, medium-strong handshake, biz card exchanged, I’m oozing warmth and happy-to-be-thereness.   Crack a joke or two, tease the attractive gal, she giggles, quickly find common ground while subtlety shifting into the Alpha position (back to the bar, leaning away, completely relaxed), offer a mild compliment.  Rapport fully established in three minutes, with a base of social strength under my feet, it’s time to dance.

My opponent subconsciously begins straining to keep his place in the shifting social hierarchy.  I”m rising, he’s stable, he likes me, but feels the widening gap even though he couldn’t explain it.

Another two minutes of convo, and I’ve demonstrated deep industry knowledge.  I make an off-handed comment showing my personal connections at higher industry levels than him.  All in the spirit comparing notes, talking shop, industry gossip, all very friendly.

Suddenly, I flip the script.  I directly challenge him and his division’s performance, and his company’s strategy.  Surprised by the sudden turn, he’s instantly put on the defensive.  He has no time to intellectually adjust, he merely reacts.   Let the bragging begin.

I’ve set him up.  He’s charmed, and startled, and feels instinctively compelled to explain to me how I’m wrong.  He feels the need to prove himself, since I appear to have higher status.   He brags up and down about his new products, new marketing tactics, new management techniques, blah blah blah, you go Mr Harvard MBA.  I look unconvinced.  He gets frustrated, tries harder.  Offers more evidence:  their next big thing, why nobody understands the brilliance they are about to shine.

I’m a complete stranger.  Why is it necessary that he prove himself to me? His ego, pricked by a situational social status wind-sheer, betrays him.  He just gave me his playbook. Unreal.

Now these junior exec guys don’t know enough to get anybody in real trouble;  they don’t hold the secrets that determine stock movements or anything like that.  But before they rise to the C-suites at the big game, they must be broken of ego.  A Boss can never talk freely.  That’s why he has IR, PR, and Corp Comm handlers.  They craft the bragging message for him or her.  So that it becomes the company messaging, not boss bragging.

Back to pride.

Pride drives excellence when no one is looking.  You are your only spectator.  You can’t lie to yourself, yourself knows you are bag of worthless noobsauce.  Pride makes you take steps forward to better yourself, for yourself.   And climbing from Wannabe to Boss Baller takes lots of steps.  Pride kills apathy.

John Steinbeck wonderfully captures this in his book Cannery Row (actual cannery pic above taken from my kayak in Monterey Bay).  The boys (Mack, Hazel, Eddie, Hughie, and Jones) move into their new pad, the Palace Flophouse.  Its an empty shack not fit for a animals.

“The Palace Flophouse was no sudden development…only a long bare room, lit dimly by two small windows, walled with unpainted wood smelling strongly of fish meal.  They had not loved it then.  Their eyes became outraged by the bare board walls.”

Then they paint the door.

“The apathy was broken then.  The boys outdid one another in beautifying the Palace Flophouse until after a few months it was, if anything, overfurnished.  With pride, the Palace became a home.”

Paint the door:  a metaphor for getting started on fixing yourself up.  Do one thing, taking pride in yourself, to better yourself.  Only for yourself, though, which brings strength, and not for the sake of others.  You cannot be motivated to lift, run, read, converse, grow, by the compliments of others.  Those compliments will come too infrequently, and make you needy.  Neediness disgusts people.

Every time you walk through your newly painted door, you will be visibly reminded that you are about your business of upping your game, errrrrrrrrday.

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