In Brands We Trust

Yesterday I was mindlessly scrolling through my LinkedIn feed (yeah I was that bored) when I came across a video that with a title along the lines of “Tell me How you Introduce Yourself and I will Tell You Who You Are.” The premise of the video is that a lot of people present their credentials when they introduce themselves. So for example, people say I am so and so and I went to [insert prestigious university]. I used to work at [insert prestigious company] but now I work at [insert another prestigious company].

The reason why we do this is to borrow the reputation and credibility that those universities and companies have and present them as our own. In my opinion, survivorship bias is the mechanism that allows this behavior to be so effective. The few people that we see do extremely well tend to highlight their credentials, which further reinforces the worth of said credentials. This cycle in my opinion is not a problem. It is actually an effective mechanism of trust and it people think it’s a good predictor of future success.

The problem occurs when credentials are the ONLY thing that you can show for yourself. The video pointed out how sad is that the only thing you can show is something that you didn’t even really do for yourself. This might seem like an extreme view and I am not suggesting that we should get rid of these credentials or anything like that. I am also not suggesting that they are not useful. I am just 22 (as of the time of this essay) and my credentials have open a dozen doors. However, I do think that we can get lost in the hype of all these world-class brands in our desire to validate ourselves and perhaps fill a void within ourselves of insecurity.

For example, today I was having lunch with this very accomplished guy and within the hour that we had lunch he mentioned that he went to Yale, had a PhD from Stanford and had worked at McKinsey (several times). I don’t think that this person was trying to show-off (at least not intentionally) or convince me of something. I just think that we are so used to presenting our ‘badges’ to everyone and anyone that’s willing to hear that we unconsciously do it to validate ourselves. I am super guilty of doing this and this brings me to my next point.

Starting today I will consciously try to not bring up in conversation with someone my alma mater, my former employers, my accomplishments, etc. unless they explicitly ask me about it or we happen to share a similar background and bringing this up will help find something in common. The purpose of this small experiment is twofold. First, I want to understand who I am a little bit better and not where I’ve gone or for whom I have worked. Second, I want to see where my conversations with strangers go when the focus is more on trying to get to know each other at a personal level and not just verbalize our resumes.

This essay might seem frivolous and to a degree I guess it is. It’s presumably addressed to a very small group of people and it might reflect some sort of egotistical behavior. However, I think it’s a real issue and would love to hear your thoughts on it.