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June 13, 2008

Pride and Ego

John_adams Throughout the history of the U.S., our second President, John Adams, hasn't really been that well regarded. Until David McCollough's famous book on the subject (now an HBO series available on DVD), he was the bench-warmer administrator sandwiched between the presidencies of the iconic figures, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In spite of Adams many accomplishments, many historians I've read and documentaries I've watched generally fault Adams for this obscurity -- citing his vanity as the main culprit that alienated him from his contemporaries. However, I think that Adams' faults are our own faults, and it's a great testament to Adams that he recognized them.

While they were both representing U.S. interests in France. Adams thought Benjamin Franklin wasn't as vigorous as he could have been in his duties. Sensing this, and concerned Adams' stridency would actually harm the cause they both believed in, Franklin wrote the most accurate picture of Adams that has ever been written.

"He means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but, sometimes, and in some things, is absolutely out of his senses."

This has been on my mind as I have danced through a few minefields over the past few weeks that have, as I studied them, manifested and been made worse because of the pride and egos of the people involved (including me). In a way, in many contexts (including all of those related to marketing), like Adams, our pride causes us to lose our senses.

Most people are realistic enough to admit that they're not right all the time, but everyone thinks they are right at any given moment. Seth points out this characteristic today as it relates to customers, but pointing out that customers are prideful and egotistic doesn't excuse marketers from the same faults in the least.

Thankfully, in large part owing to McCollough's book, this consensus of armchair historians to dismiss John Adams' contributions is reversing.

Adams was a man of great mind and many talents. His famous vanity could have been curse but for his awareness of it, which, along with strong moral scruples (and with the encouragement of his brilliant wife, Abigail), gave him the ability to temper his ambition to the point that he could harness his ego for the improvement of the country.

Realizing what we must do to follow Adams' example is not difficult.

Prideandego

However, following through means putting our own egos in check, which is easier said than done. We all believe our problems to be the most urgent. Our pain is the worst pain. Barring evidence to the contrary (and even, often, in spite of it), we believe our positions are the right ones, or else they would not be our positions. To make matters worse, we often respond to the first salvo of egotism with the same type of weapon, and usually in similar or greater quantities.

As it turns out, this is almost never helpful.

In any event, the first step to overcoming our pride is to realize that we all are susceptible to falling prey to it. That way we are more likely to recognize it when it when it does. If we can learn that from Adams, then perhaps he may be remembered as our greatest President ever.

However, don't say that too much. We wouldn't want him to get a big head. - Cam Beck

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Comments

You kind of have me at "hello" with these history-related posts.

I think the problem you reference has been exacerbated by our society in recent years as we emphasize everyone's specialness and right to rudeness- be it talking loudly on a cell phone in public places or lecturing strangers on their behavior.

Confronted with that, our first reaction is often to act equally as rudely in return, where a shrug or look of indulgence may be the better reaction.

Cam,

First, that book is one of my all-time favorites. I've read it several times, which for a person with zero free time is saying a lot. McCullough is a genius. If he could make Harry Truman fascinating, he could definitely give John Adams back his place in history.

Second, yes, in marketing ego is king, not usually to good effect. The most important role of marketers is to put themselves in others' shoes when developing strategies, yet once that's done it's back to "all about me"! Ironic.

Third, I felt like I was reading runes here, looking for clues in the text—wouldn't I love to know what prompted this post! :)

Regards,

Kelly

Hello Cam,

I haven't read this, yet, but may put it on the list based on your observations. The description of a man whose very overriding ambition works to thwart his ability to realize it is telling. Great insight, here - thanks!

It's an amazing book -- One I'm glad I read when I did. It's easy to overlook Adams with all the towering figures of his day, but it would be a huge mistake to do so.

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