The Reputation Economy

The Reputation Economy is written by Michael Fertik, and David C. Thompson, who are Harvard and Stanford law grads, respectively, and who are founders (CEO and first general counsel/privacy officer, respectively) of The Reputation Economy is a good choice for getting some good grounding on this moment in history for navigating the intersection of upheaval in technology, society, and privacy. For one, it’s easy to forget how quickly things are changing, but the book’s authors themselves refer to their own book’s offered wisdom as likely helpful for the next few years or so, and generally write with an explicit awareness that their book will be obsolete before long.

Like many books, the first chapter is really written to sell you the book–so it’s much more about why reputation is important than it is about what you can do to manage your reputation. No reason to do that by halves, so the chapter alternates with threats and promises. Threats include permanent consignment to the dustbin of professional strivers and total isolation and anonymity for would-be romantics, because, in plain terms, digital reputations close doors. Promises include never having to write a cover letter or say “hey” on a dating site, because reputations not only can open doors, they can mean you don’t even need to knock. It’s hard to fault them for trying (mine is a library copy, sorry guys) and there were some good gems in the section, although I’d have liked it better if it had more practical tips, and less anecdotes of fear/promise.

The third chapter is a discussion of disruption in the education economy… which is a fascinating point. Just as the U.S. economy is increasingly a single, competitive economy, so too the global economy is increasingly a single place–and a place where hundreds of millions of people get college degrees each year… and are, on that basis, hard to distinguish from each other. College is still extremely desirable, because for all that it is an imperfect signal, it’s better than nothing. But with (for one example) online education starting to come into its own, there’s pretty likely to be big change on the horizon, with actual learning (potentially, anyway) being something a person can demonstrate, rather than signal.

On the topic of actual relationship management, there are some good practical tips here Some good ones I recall (although I’m writing these from memory, having already returned the book):

  • Google yourself, and see what comes up, and take steps to follow-up if you don’t like what you see.
  • Keep your linkedin current, and remember that you are more likely to get positive recommendations and endorsements from people you either a) ask explicitly to give you recommendations or endorsements and b) from people to whom you give endorsements or recommendations.
  • Practice internet hygiene. Understand that your real-life shopping habits, your answers to dating profile questions, your Facebook friends, and may all become linked together and used to make snap judgments about you, whether that is to offer you a job or to advertise maternity wear to you on Facebook when you recently purchased a pregnancy test at Fred Meyer.

Overall, this book is probably going to be most helpful to someone who wants to approach managing their online presence much the way an engineer might approach an optimization problem. It’s a little too long, and too interested in selling the services of, rather than tackling the problem itself, but I still got some good use from it.

There are a lot of other questions that having a digital reputation creates, which this book’s focus on “reputation” assumes away. Reputation is one aspect–call it the backside of the coin–of the core problem of the way in which our social connections and personal meaning are digitally mediated. It isn’t just a problem of how we look and how we choose to look; it’s a problem of who we are, and who we choose to become.

Within that broader topic of having digital selves, a book I really enjoyed was  “So you’ve been publicly shamed” by Jon Ronson. It’s about problems of navigating the weirdly distorted community dynamics that exist in many online spaces. The book contains a lot of well-sourced reporting on the larger stories and longer-term consequences in the lives of people who become internet-famous in ways that subject them to deliberate shaming behavior at the hands of internet communities.

On the Myers Briggs, Trump is an SP

I’m working on getting a firmer feel for the Myers Briggs. Reading the book “Please Understand Me” I ran across this section:

SP Manager at Work
This managerial style negotiates with ease and has, of all the types, the highest sense of reality. He is a natural negotiator, but other titles which might capture this style are “Troubleshooter,” “Diplomat,” and “Beachmaster.” This leader is good at putting out fires, at unsnarling messes, and at responding to crisis situations in a way which none of the other types can match without great effort. Whatever needs to be done to solve a problem is done. Ties to the past and ties to the future are expendable.

There is an attitude of sureness and damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead that causes others to be confident in the negotiator’s decisions and directions. If this leader experiences self-doubt, he does not transmit it to those around him.

He is not saddled with rules, regulations, policies, traditions, contracts, and old relationships. Putting it in other terms: To the Negotiator, everything–and everybody–is negotiable!

When the Negotiator goes into a situation with the intent of getting warring factions to compromise, he does not consider anything which either side owns as non-negotiable. Most representatives of opposing factions reserve the things they own or the things they have done as non-negotiable. They take their place at the conference table with a tiny bit of something in mind which they intend to negotiate. They plan to give up a pittance in exchange for whatever they can get. The Negotiator, however, goes back and looks in closets, and says, “Hey, look at all that gold. Let’s bring it out and negotiate it!” This extraordinary sense of reality gives this type not an edge, but an entire plane over everybody else. He makes everybody else look like amateurs when it comes to negotiation.

This type of manager tends to be impatient with theories, concepts, goal statements, and statements of philosophy. They get restive with these issues, seeing them as exercise in futility. They themselves are the very essence of flexibility in their expectancy of others. They are open-minded and can change positions rather easily. They love to take risks, love to gamble, love to solve problems in crises…

But consider the situation if the Negotiator/Troubleshooter is asked to stay and consolidate that school, or industry, or business. Suppose he is asked to head up the business that is now in the black? Suppose he is asked to maintain an organization, establishing human and data systems. What is he going to do? He is going to make mischief. He is going to give himself activities which fit his preferences. He is going to go around setting fires so he can put them out. That is the penalty of having a Troubleshooter stay on as a stabilizer. He doesn’t get his jollies from stabilizing. He feels he’s not earning his keep, has nothing worthwhile to do, is bored–and so he goes out looking for trouble.”

Strengths: pragmatism, realism, adaptability.
Weaknesses: May be reluctant to pay attention to theory and may be impatient with abstractions. May not like the unfamiliar. May react negatively to change caused by others. May be so fully in the moment that he may have difficulty remembering commitments and decisions of the past. “Yesterday is quickly gone and just as fast forgotten. This belief leaves the SP leader in a position of being somewhat unpredictable to his colleagues and subordinates. When there is nothing to troubleshoot, the Troubleshooter/Negotiator leader can become rigid.”

Sounds like our President, no?

It turns out I’m not the first person to notice this, by a mile. See, e.g., here and here. Our President’s personality seems to map pretty tightly to the Meyers Briggs category ESTP. (He’s clearly on the “extrovert” side, with obvious traits like drawing energy from interacting with others and a high appetite for risk. He’s also clearly not an “F” on the thinking/feeling side of things.

I think there’s a lot the Myers Briggs gets right, in terms of how it works as a tool for understanding ways in which people can vary. On the other hand, I tend to think many of these things may be pretty fluid. Reportedly, our President was pretty heavily influenced as a young man by the ideas of Norman Vincent Peale. I suspect there may be a significant extent to which some kinds of self-help, particularly the kinds that promise success via interpersonal tricks or positive thinking–for young minds that take them seriously–can tend to foster this kind of personality.

The way I tend to see these ideas working to change personality is that “the power of positive thinking” and related philosophies dispense with personal truth in exchange for mantra and persona. It’s unsurprising that this works; personal truth is nebulous, and often takes a lot of work just to discern or communicate, and frequently it is inconvenient. Try asking anyone who has ever fallen in love with someone who doesn’t love them back, or anyone who has had to admit to not loving someone who loves them. Dispensing with truth can be extremely lucrative–financially, anyway–as anyone who has ever married for money can attest. But dispensing with personal truth means lying becomes second-nature, which has drawbacks too.

On the one hand, as his supporters often note, our President is a bruising personality that is liable to steamroll past old nonsense, and get down to business, and his affection for simple shows of force (you’re fired) and conspicuous displays of wealth (big buildings, golf courses) can seem like an unapologetic willingness to get what he wants and enjoy being effective and successful. That seems like someone we could benefit from having in office, particularly if you trust that he’s on your team and interested in stopping corruption or trimming needless bureaucracy.

On the other hand, taken to an extreme, there’s no truth that isn’t negotiable. A person’s–a woman’s, say–sexual autonomy is negotiable, and if you’re rich and famous, you may find yourself boasting about your immunity from abstract constraints like consent. Whatever it was you said when you first got married (or on subsequent wedding days, if you fail at your first attempt)–well, that was yesterday and this is today: marriage is inherently of convenience. Rules of law, principles of separation of powers and judicial independence, the importance of a free and adversarial press; these are obscurantist abstractions, and any inconveniences supposedly justified in the name of these ideas are unprincipled, unfair treatment or even the action of an enemy cabal. The actual size of an inauguration crowd, and the actual fact of any Russian role in an election, the actual fact that a real estate mogul with a sporadic track record has no good claim to being uniquely well-suited to negotiate a solution to the problem of the nuclear arms race, and the actual fact that the man appears to be deeply unhappy are ignored, in favor of strident repetitions of mantra:

President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him,” Hope Hicks said in a statement to The Washington Post.

“He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000.”

Hicks went on to further compliment the president, saying he has built “great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect.”

“He is brilliant with a great sense of humor,” she said, “and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.”