You can talk about New Year’s resolutions until Shane Warne gets a wrinkle on his face but it’s time we recognised that all our resolutions are part of a greater inconvenient truth: Western civilisation is adrift on a rising tide of bullshit called “self-promotion”.

A shedload of Bull branding. Pic: AFP

Back in the 70s (the good old days) during hours of physical work with my old man, he was fond of dropping phrases like “say nothing and saw wood”. It upset him greatly that I chose to go off to university instead of remaining a carpet layer. Dad believed in productivity, not talk, and he feared that I would turn into some flabby weirdo who did nothing in life but smoke dope and quote Proust at dinner parties.

Many of those people are now running the nation, a nation that is losing the ability to “do” things because we are too busy talking about things.

Creating a “brand” has become such a fundamental part of our lives it is not just about how corporations approach business but how governments approach policy and how we approach each other.

It’s reached a critical mass Joseph Heller’s Captain Yossarian would have understood all too well: the more we sell what we do, the longer we have to stop doing it, which leaves us with less to sell.

Self-promotion in the workplace has been around for decades but was usually confined to irritating wankers who were laughed at by everyone, including the boss. Now it’s become institutionalised. What damages us is not just the vomit-inducing self-indulgence. It’s young people being encouraged to spend less time on productivity and skill and more time on fostering “relationships” with those who can help their careers. “It’s not what you know but who you know” used to be a cautionary one-liner. Now it’s the over-riding rule. 

Maybe it’s because our big businesses have for so long been encouraging American corporate tom-foolery like walking on hot coals, abseiling and other self-awareness mumbo jumbo at the expense of something called “work”. It’s all about “positive affirmation” these days, “building your brand”, reciting dozens of well-worn mantras stating the bleeding obvious. Remember, before you get a life coach you should first check to see if you have a life. 

Bosses are saying things like “I gave that guy the position because he really wanted it. He was in my office every day telling me he was the best candidate. I admire that tenacity…”

I don’t. For a start, who was doing that idiot’s job while he was in your office every day? Why weren’t you doing what a manager is supposed to do – know your employees and what they’re capable of?

What happened to humility? It’s the Australian way. We tend to cringe when our sporting heroes don’t show humility and yet we are destroying it everywhere else.

Then there’s the more subtle “Claytons worker” – the person of limited ability who always looks busy and focussed, creating a whirlwind of hyperactivity to fool us into thinking they’re actually doing something.

Where is the reward for those who are unfortunate enough to be so efficient that they make it look easy, or are so genuinely busy that they haven’t the time to self-promote? There is none. Our society runs on high-octane hype. Everywhere you look there is something or someone on display saying “buy me”, “believe me”, “watch me” or “like me”.

Corporations spend billions marketing “brands” of distinction and superiority when those brands represent the same old low-cost products made in third-world sweat shops by people on a salary of one dollar a month. At least there has always been a healthy scepticism about products.

What we can’t cop is institutions, political parties and people becoming products, vying for our attention with the same cunning tricks used by marketers. We all have a right to explain and justify ourselves at times but the problem comes when the environment is competitive and the squawking becomes more assertive, less credible and less productive.

Politicians are spending hundreds of millions of our dollars, not on infrastructure, but promoting their “brand” - policies and proclamations designed only to fill their sails until after the next election.

Sporting bodies are more concerned with promoting the elite, terrified of losing their market share to rival codes but neglecting the support base: community development and encouraging young people to take up a healthy pastime.

Even charities are increasingly forced to promote themselves - all manner of gimmickry to raise awareness using money and time they’d prefer to spend on helping others. They are helplessly caught up in yet another “marketplace”. 

Have we consumers become so lazy and ill-informed that we can’t make our own value judgements?

Apparently yes, because marketing has also become an obligatory process in our personal life. “Networking” used to be a mutually declared business objective. These days it has morphed into something more subversive: fake relationships cultivated by fake people in the warmth of that vast greenhouse called social media. We crowd our Facebook pages with desperate attempts to show a perception of ourselves. Twitter is cluttered with pretentious pap designed only to create an “impression” that people will like, in order to buy what we’re flogging.

Our words have become as credible as Gerard Depardieu’s Russian citizenship but then it hardly matters as long as everyone is playing the same game. We have been consumed by the pretence.

So, if you want to really “cut through”, maybe it’s time to say nothing and saw wood.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDST.

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55 comments

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    • acotrel says:

      06:46am | 10/01/13

      ‘Everywhere you look there is something or someone on display saying “buy me”, “believe me”, “watch me” or “like me”. ‘

      Like Tony Hairybot in his budgie smugglers, who has nothing constructive to offer ?  The new Tony is going to have to be pretty good to makes forget his previous carping negativity.

    • yeah-no says:

      07:15am | 10/01/13

      I’m not an Abbott admirer, but can’t you find anything to say on the topic without bringing him into it? Do you really think you’re damaging him by bagging him here every day? You’re not, you’re damaging yourself. You criticise Abbott for negativity but you’re so obsessed with attacking him that you’re blind to your own tiresome negativity. Give it a rest and find something constructive to say on another topic.

    • semi concerned citizen says:

      07:16am | 10/01/13

      Dear the punch,

      How is this guy not in the sin bin with eric?

    • VVS says:

      07:17am | 10/01/13

      Speaking of having nothing constructive to offer…

      Sums up about 99% of acotrel’s posts.

    • Aitch B says:

      07:20am | 10/01/13

      @acotrel

      No different to you putting yourself on display with your constant, childish bagging of Abbott and the Coalition or PJ with his anti-ALP drivel.

      Both smack of a “look at me” fixation….

    • GoYourOwn Way says:

      07:24am | 10/01/13

      I wonder if you have anything new to sell acotrel, like perhaps not linking every single article to a negative comment about a political party. I reckon I could publish an article about the mating habits of the native Australian Gekko and you would still somehow manage to link it to to your Anti Tony platform. You are like a mate of mine who will only drink VB, predictable!

    • Cynic Al says:

      07:39am | 10/01/13

      I think acotrel must vote Labor, having managed somehow to bring Abbot Abbot in to this subject!

    • Tropical says:

      07:59am | 10/01/13

      Idiot - who has even less to offer on any subject.
      Go and grow up sunshine you are typical of Labors mediocrity.

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      08:23am | 10/01/13

      I would truly hate to have such a singular focus…it must be terribly limiting to see the world through such a filter.

    • RJB says:

      08:30am | 10/01/13

      Proof positive that the Federal government must address funding shortfalls in mental health, chin up Alan.

    • David says:

      08:50am | 10/01/13

      Was that comment really necessary?  At the very least it shows you to be at least as bad as he whom you are criticizing, and it contributes nothing worthwhile to a serious article.

    • Schmavo says:

      09:20am | 10/01/13

      Considering you are often the first post, and so anti-Abbott, I think it’s time to disclose whose payroll you are on. Very boring drivel.

    • acotrel says:

      02:35pm | 10/01/13

      Why wouldn’t I comment often on Abbott, you guys hasve been talking about voting for him.  Can you say in all honesty that he is not nuts ?

    • acotrel says:

      02:51pm | 10/01/13

      Do yuou really believe I bag Abbott without good reason.  You obviously have not read the judgement in the Ashby v Slipper case ? :

      http://www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/Judgments/fca/single/2012/2012fca1411

      If you think that sort of dirty slimy politics is OK, it says something dramatric about your own personal values Why would you attempt to elect someone who would be a party to that sort of crap. ‘The ends justify the means’ ?  Have a good think about the level this guy has dragged Australian federal politics down to.  If a Labor leader had been a party to that sort of garbage, I would not be voting for the party.  You tout Abbott as being a decent sort of chappie - you are warped.
      He offers nothing but tears all round.

    • Stained says:

      03:17pm | 10/01/13

      acotrel says: “Why wouldn’t I comment often on Abbott, you guys hasve (sic)been talking about voting for him.  Can you say in all honesty that he is not nuts ?”

      NUTS?  Are you all there mate?  you are a damn fool as people have said your waking moments are Abbott.  You are obsessed with this man, even to the point of noticing his package in his Speedos.  Wow, you need a psychiatrist fast.  I expect you are one of those men whose testicles are mutating into ovaries.
      What a bore you must be to be around for even 10 minutes!

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      03:19pm | 10/01/13

      “Can you say in all honesty that he is not nuts ?”

      Can you, in all honesty, say something that does not involve Abbott?  The rest of us know the whole lot of politicians are about as desirable as swimming in toxic sludge, but here we are.  Banging on about one particular politician every single day is not interesting.  It’s tedious (and it’s clearly not just me who thinks so).

    • acotrel says:

      03:33pm | 10/01/13

      Julius Caeser :
      ‘‘It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking.’

      I like Joe Hockey better.

    • LJ Dots says:

      04:28pm | 10/01/13

      ‘Do yuou really believe I bag Abbott without good reason’

      Well, I’ll go out out on a limb here and say yes indeed acotrel.

      There was no mention of Abbott at all in your linked report, which I have to assume you had provided believing it was solid evidence to support your claims.

    • LJ Dots says:

      06:43pm | 10/01/13

      aaaand, that’s one New Years resolution broken already - no more than one response to acotrel in any given quarter.  I’ve got three left.

    • Abe says:

      07:20am | 10/01/13

      Hi Bill,
      Thanks for the piece, you have succinctly put into words what myself and many of my friends and family think about the modern day world, particularly the pathetic and narcissistic social media environment.

    • yeah-no says:

      07:21am | 10/01/13

      In an increasingly crowded and rushed world, you have to put yourself forward firmly to make a career. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Don’t expect to be discovered by quietly keeping your head down and working. You might be, or you might be passed over for the noisy underachiever in the next cubicle. Same goes for finding a life partner. When they say ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, it means ‘but not yet’.

    • Mark990 says:

      11:42am | 10/01/13

      Everything you have said is in line with what Bill put forward. He was trying to make a point that this is not how it should be though. We now work in environments where ‘talkers’ are presented with more opportunity than ‘doers’. Whilst this is fine in some lines of work (e.g. sales), for others it does not allow the cream to rise to the top. What you end up with is people in roles over their head who are constantly scared of their own shadow and play games of smoke and mirrors in order to disguise their short falls. The flip side is you may get someone who is capable of the role, but has narcissistic tendencies and alienates the rest of the team which can be just as damaging.

    • Tubesteak says:

      07:24am | 10/01/13

      One good thing about the billable hours environment or the MBA style of management is the mantra of “if you can’t measure it then you can’t manage it”.

      Billable hours, recovery rates and production targets speak for themselves. No-one can hide. At the end of every month (or every week for the really anally retentive partners who only care about billing clients and not quality of work) the amount of work you’ve charged and the percentage of that work time that the client paid for is analysed and you are assessed for your contribution to the monthly billables.

      Same sort of things are applied in-house. Your production can be measured by your output. What was achieved this month is assessed and the accuracy of that achievement is also assessed.

      You cannot hide from that. Any organisation that does not operate in this fashion is not worth working for.

    • Roscoe says:

      07:34am | 10/01/13

      My god you’re a peanut.  Don’t you ever give up??

      How come Erick got banned for dominating the conversation yet this drop kick is allowed to turn every single topic into a Tony Abbott rant?

    • Jaqui says:

      09:45am | 10/01/13

      @Roscoe: You don’t expect lefties to be treated the same way as everyone else on here now do you Roscoe?

    • acotrel says:

      03:20pm | 10/01/13

      News Ltd is letting the conservatives down ?  Perhaps Rupert is having pangs of conscience about Abbott’s slimy tactics ?

    • Big Jay says:

      07:56am | 10/01/13

      I can understand a lot of the corporate w@nkery around the place regarding self-promotion, corporate marketing/brand building etc, same with the individual w@ankery on facebook etc. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but anyway.

      What really bugs me is that, as the author points out, political parties, sports bodies, and charities have all fallen into this trap. Surely their deeds should speak for themselves and getting publicity (without consuming their productive time and cash) for those shouldn’t be an issue.

      His point about sport particularly resonates with me as grassroots sports is routinely ignored by the sports bodies themselves, the govt and even sponsors (though their are plenty of good sponsors out there supporting locals) in favour of elites. Myself, I’m finding elite sport more and more souless and boring.

    • fzr560 says:

      08:13am | 10/01/13

      I wonder if the old man changed his mind when he realized that you could make a good living without the sore back and bad knees. As much as our parents were do-ers and not talkers,  I’m sure that bullshit flowed in those days as well. Tradies over promise and under deliver today and I’m sure they did back then.
          Time to accept your place in the 21st century, Bill. Sip your Gloria Jeans latte and tweet your choice of sweets on your disposable chinese phablet .

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      12:17pm | 10/01/13

      “Sip your Gloria Jeans latte “

      The only people I know who drink Gloria Jeans are the unemployed and stay at home parents who can’t find anything better to drink on their regular travels to shopping centres.  Anyone of the type who you are attempting to stereotype wouldn’t be caught dead drinking it…seven seeds and padre (or preferably self roasted in a repurposed popcorn maker) all the way.

    • EC says:

      08:47am | 10/01/13

      Bill,

      A very interesting article. I agree in principle with most of what you are saying but do believe there is a place for “networking” within the business environment. However, this needs to be done in moderation and, like you remark, not at the expense of actually doing work.

    • Pete says:

      08:48am | 10/01/13

      Couldn’t agree more with everything said in this article!

    • Schmavo says:

      09:18am | 10/01/13

      Had a classic example of this recently when I asked a colleague for information that was on his laptop. He spent 15 minutes ranting about how he just didn’t have the time, how busy, blah blah blah. I eventually stopped him mid sentence and said that had he not of waffled on, I would have the answer by now and could he just locate the file and email it now while we were talking. All while a client was waiting within earshot. Embarassing to say the least.

    • Pedro says:

      01:33pm | 10/01/13

      “had he not HAVE waffled on” ... good grammar gets the promotion as far as I’m concerned.
      Bad grammar on top of bad spelling ... EMBARRASSING to sat the least.

      @Schmavo is yet another reason why this country is going down the toilet. Tries to big note himself and out someone else down but ends up looking like a tool.

    • Tomtom says:

      01:37pm | 10/01/13

      Pedro - you could be an idiot for not checking your post beating up someone about spelling and grammar without checking your own post for a typo first. Sat is meant to be SAY, right?

    • Cars says:

      05:21pm | 10/01/13

      What is even more embarassing is that “had he not HAVE waffled on” is still incorrect. lol! What a waste of time

    • Dan says:

      09:43am | 10/01/13

      Beautifully written Bill. Welcome back to the media - those dills at Ch 10 don’t know what they’ve lost.

    • Mark990 says:

      11:47am | 10/01/13

      +1. I hope you’re in talks with Ch7 Bill. Would love to see you back hosting motorsport!

    • George says:

      10:05am | 10/01/13

      Too true. All that management/HR talk makes me sick. I’d just like to know what we’re going to manufacture here assuming we can’t go on in perpetuity as we are. I haven’t heard any good ideas.

    • Colin says:

      10:16am | 10/01/13

      Largely illiterate, poorly-educated (even those with ‘Degrees’) idiots who once were relegated to the menial and simple tasks of a Working World because they had neither the mental acumen or the physical capability to be more gainfully employed, now are able to self-promote and self-aggrandise by hiding behind technology and the limp-wristed social structure that technology has assisted to spawn.

      As a result, the Peter Principle has never been more apt in describing the modern-day detritus that floats to the top and forms the oily, malodorous sheen that is today’s ‘Modern Worker’...

    • Colin says:

      06:05pm | 10/01/13

      @ acotrel

      OK, I’m a Rocket Surgeon..!

    • gus says:

      10:44am | 10/01/13

      Whitout education we would still live in caves, and there we would not nead carpet layers

    • Hartz says:

      11:04am | 10/01/13

      No where is this blatant self promotion more evident than in the public service. The final place where mediocrity is celebrated and the uneducated middlemen (and women) self promote themselves into positions of power…. People literally go days without doing anything productive and then they pontificate about their great contribution to society.  It will never change though - because other self promoted half wits are running the show and they have neither the skills nor the inclination to address the issues. And we sit and wonder why it takes sooooo long to get the government to do anything…

    • SAm says:

      11:26am | 10/01/13

      Great peice. Just like applying for jobs, no matter what the job is, apparently you have to be ‘enthusiastic’, ‘passionate’ and bunch of other HR buzzwords. How the hell can someone be passionate about data entry, or factory line work, or customer service for that matter? I really wish we just had figures to present to your interviewer, here you go, make up your mind.

    • Jack says:

      11:35am | 10/01/13

      This country has far to many talkers and too few doers. What happens when we are left with only people who generate ideas and theries and can,t put any of these into practise? Hang on…...we are already there, Gillard,greens etc…..

    • YaThinkN says:

      11:43am | 10/01/13

      Absolutely love this article Bill.  You are so correct, it is bad enough in business but is getting seriously worse in politics.  What is saddest is that we are just accepting it, and that goes to ALL the political parties.

      Imagine if we called bullshit on all them, refused to accept any spin, or advertising mantra’s?  Imagine, if next time the pollie had a doorstop presser and repeated the same bloody phrase half a dozen times, the journo actually said, ‘loudly’, “Yes we heard you the first time, now, what are you actually going to DO about…”?  How cool would that be?

      SIGH!  A girl can dream smile

    • Big Jay says:

      12:10pm | 10/01/13

      @YaThinkN - Good call.

      I’m waiting for a journo on tv or radio, when they get answers totally unrelated to their question to turn around and say to the politician “get the **** of my show!” Even if it was the PM haha

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      12:21pm | 10/01/13

      “How cool would that be?”

      Better yet, if they can’t produce a direct answer when asked, the immediately get cut off and the opposition gets put on, if they can’t, move to an independent/minor party etc…  Just refuse to give air time to the waffling until they can’t get publicity at all, except damning publicity (which they need to answer for in a direct manner).

    • Tubesteak says:

      03:35pm | 10/01/13

      Isn’t that what Leigh Sales did to Tony Abbott?

      She got called a cow by a Liberal member but that goes to show that she was doing her job.

      I’ve seen the same happen to Gillard. It does happen. You just have to stop watching the clueless fluff media.

    • Millsy says:

      11:44am | 10/01/13

      If we as a society were united & organised enough we could stop all this. We really do have the power to make positive changes, we’ve just forgotten how to use it

    • Leigh says:

      02:45pm | 10/01/13

      Dear Mr. Bill Woods,

      Did you read my mind?

      Sincerely,


      Leigh

    • guyperson says:

      02:52pm | 10/01/13

      Granpa!  What are you doing on the internet?  Talking like the past is relevant today!

      Not surprising this comment section either, those who spend their time on the internet complaining about people ““talkers and too few doers”” while doing the exact same thing!

      ““Remember the good old days Sonny?””

    • Not that old, but very cranky says:

      03:26pm | 10/01/13

      Discussion in a public forum is the only way to tackle an issue like this… we ARE doers. People today… illogical. 

      Think before you type, child.

    • Njavier says:

      03:49pm | 10/01/13

      Hi Bill very good comment, I know now where to find you and follow you,we miss you from ten news every day special hour with Sandra,thanks both of you.

    • Bruce Mullinger says:

      04:57pm | 10/01/13

      Right about the ‘70s Bill (the good old days) then we had the lamentable and society changing Hawke/Keating ‘reforms’ and now look at where we’re at.

 

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