Monday, May 01, 2017

Speech #7: To Boast or not to Boast- That is the Question.

[Toastmaster Competent Communicator Project #7: Research Your Topic.  Objectives: Use statistics,quotes, visual aids.  Carefully support your points.]

Mr. Toastmaster

I would like to speak today about some famous people. People that we either hate or admire. I'll talk about how their behavior relates to how we judge them. I'll give several examples. I'll show you how Harvard Business School analyzes such things. I'll finish with a bit advice about life.

Let's see; who is a famous hero? Elon Musk! The SpaceX and Tesla electric car guy. Wikipedia article says that he made his money from Paypal, which many of you know.

On TV, I see SpaceX rockets on supplying the ISS. But that not all. The BBC said, that Musk is talking about a private colony on Mars for crying out lout. Buzz Aldrin called that bodacious.

On the Tesla front, CNN shows film of drivers happily reading their newspapers as their Tesla car with auto pilot drives them to work. Forbes Magazine says that 400,000 advance orders for the Tesla model 3 are already sold.

But Musk is even bolder than that. CNBC reported that, South Australia has an electricity crisis. They got rid of their old dirty power plants, leaving only solar and wind. But when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, South Australians sit in the dark. The Aussies are in a tizzy. They don't know what to do. In steps Elon Musk. He publicly boasted that he could fix South Australia's problem within 100 days, or else give them everything for free. Google News said that 74000 newspapers picked up that story. Wow, what's not to admire?

Wait! Not so fast. Tesla's report to the SEC says that they lose almost a billion dollars per year, and they have only 6 months left to start delivering on those 400000 advance orders. If Tesla Motors fails, many people will be hurt. How will we judge Elon Musk then?

The book Endgame told the story of Bobby Fischer, the arrogant, boastful, abrasive child prodigy chess player. It also tells how Fischer's public image changed overnight from villain to hero when he beat the famous Boris Spassky for the world chess championship in 1972.

Not everyone is boastful. Readers Digest wrote about Mother Teresa and Mahatma Ghandi. They were both successful yet modest..

Apparently, we judge Musk and Fischer first by their success, and second by their attitudes.
There are two dimensions at play, success and modesty. For only $150K Harvard Business School will teach you how to analyze almost all problems using a diagram like this with four quadrants.

The vertical axis is success versus failure, and the horizontal axis we have boastful versus modest. Heroes like Elon Musk go in the upper right corner. We use words like bold, boastful, arrogant, and reach for the stars, to describe them. For people on the lower right, we might also say arrogant and reach for the stars but we also might say hated losers. Bobby Fischer was promoted from lower right to upper right. We use the word admirable for the upper left and pitiful for the lower right.

Interestingly, cultural differences, can move the center point up/down/left/or right. For example, Radio Sweden reported on Sweden's first expedition to climb Mount Everest. They said, that the coach told the team to “try adequately”. Not, “do your best” but “try adequately”. The team made it to within 100 m of the summit, then turned back. Sweden considered that a success. The American equivalent is the familiar slogan “Pikes Peak or Bust.” Center higher. Center lower.

A recent article in euronews said that Americans are biased towards boldness, and Europeans biased towards modesty, and because of that the EU is falling behind. Center right. Center left.

Here's the point. In life, your degree of success depends of course on traditional values of hard work and skill, but also things beyond your control like timing, luck, and local culture. But whether you fall on the left or the right side is a strategic life choice. Choose carefully.

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