The Revenge of the Nice Guys

I’ve been reading Made to Stick, a book about how to get your ideas to be memorable. One of the anecdotes from this book that stuck with me was about Leo Durocher, a famously cantankerous baseball manager. Apparently his statement to the effect of “The nice guys are all over there. In seventh place ” got morphed, over the years, into “Nice Guys Finish Last.”

 

This, along with recent posts about Social Currency on blogs by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith have got me thinking. Is this great American mantra of Nice Guys Finishing Last, one of the most frequently quoted lines around, really true?

 

In the old days, when Durocher was in major league baseball, we assume it was a kinder and gentler time. Through the haze of memory and media, we tend to believe the “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” versions of the 1950’s and 1960’s. While reality probably differs from this flawless portrait of Americana, what is true is that many more small towns existed.

 

Rather than being part of a larger metropolis, smaller towns and villages all had their own infrastructure, including bankers, merchants, grocers, and the like. People could sign for purchases at local stores, with unsecured credit. Bills would go out at the end of the month, and they would get paid. No problems. There was a trust that developed, because your reputation was important. People adhered to codes of behavior that seemed restrictive and unnecessary later on, because almost all of business was done on a handshake. If you screwed up, threats like “You’ll never do business in this town again” were real and powerful. These things seem like a punch line in a lot of circles today.

 

The daily news came through trusted filters, every night, once a day. Opinion mattered, as well as fact. Reputations were the most important currency you could have, and it’s what allowed business and personal relationships to flourish.

 

Okay, you are saying to yourself- clearly I am dripping with nostalgia, and why does any of this matter? Here’s the point.

 

In the New Media and Web 2.0 world, or whatever we’re calling it these days, is in some ways, a throw back to this earlier time. Business gets done by trust and reputation. This trust and reputation builds over time, and it isn’t just yours because you want it, or because you had some cache in the bricks and mortar world. You have to be as reliable, or perhaps even more so, online than you are in corpus.

 

This is why Chris’s role at Pulver Media is important. Chris has been called the Mayor of Podcasting. (I personally would have him run for even higher office, but that is another post altogether). Why? Chris Brogan is a sweet guy. He knows who he is, and he is always Chris. He’s not trying to be anyone else. You meet him, and he has a genuine, inherent curiosity about who you are and what you do. This is a man who people genuinely love and care for, because he is an original.

 

Julien Smith is another original. He has a mind like a razor. It’s sharp, concise, and even when he struggles to express an idea, you know the wheels are turning with amazing speed and precision. He can seem a bit intimidating, because he has this “steely eyed missile man” personality wrapped up in a package that makes him look like a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He is what I would call aggressively smart and intuitive. He should be on anyone’s first round draft pick for insightful people on the ‘net.

 

What makes Chris and Julien different from others?

 

We are living in a world where everything has seemingly become about hype. There are “slick” ad campaigns everywhere, and it’s gotten to a point where we don’t trust any of them. Experience has told us that advertising is manipulative, and not to be trusted. We believe that when someone contacts you, they want something. They are only in it for them, and don’t really care about you or your value. We become suspicious and tentative. Jaded. We’ve heard THAT before, we say.

 

(For example, every time I hear the President mention Iraq and 9/11 in the same sentence, for whatever reason, I just tune him out and say ‘There he goes again, trying to peddle that crap!!!’ Whatever the content of the statement is then totally gone from my mind. He has no social currency left, and by poll numbers, much of the Country feels similarly.)

 

If you get to meet either of these superstars in person, the first thing you’ll be struck by is their interest. They look you in the eye. They listen when you talk. They are not spending their time, vaguely listening while looking for other people to talk to in the room. They are engaged. They respond with thought and intent. They connect. With everyone. And it’s not about having adapted master manipulation tactics. And it’s not about working hard to impress you or to make sure to mention your name so many times in a conversation even YOU get tired of hearing it. They are the WYSIWYG guys, there is no manipulative packaging. Yeah- there’s a hell of a lot going on between their ears every single moment, but they are about moving the whole game forward, and helping you move yours forward as well, whether or not there’s something in it for them.

 

In an online world where articulating your viewpoint can be difficult, where misplaced words or punctuation can cloud meaning, or give a passage whole different message that would have been conveyed in person, we are gradually learning to build trust and relationships in the old fashioned way. Over time. Through personal contacts and handshakes.

 

And it means that getting out of your house and your safety zone, and attending events like PodCamp, or local meetups, or even the grocery store, can benefit you, if you will talk about what your care about. You need to share and be willing to help others as much as possible. This is what builds relationships. Just ask the guy at the local hardware store who used to let us all sign for the stuff my mom needed or the one grocery store near here that still has old fashioned signing accounts for some of the long time customers, now in their 70’s and 80’s. Your word should always be your bond. And this is true now more than ever, regardless of what Madison Avenue is telling you.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Revenge of the Nice Guys

  1. the internet is the eternal small town, no matter how large it gets. all the transactions are eventually thrown down in hyperlink format. it turns into a social Monopoly-style board game, where you can tell who’s doing what, almost instantaneously. that’s why, i think, the nice guys aren’t finishing last anymore– because we can see, right on the game board, what they’re doing.

    thanks for the love dude. i sent this to chris (obviously). :)

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