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Let’s Kill The Kudzu of Self Promotion

by Stephanie Koehler

One of the great things I have noticed – on a global scale — in recent years is an authentic desire to openly share ideas, an expanded idea of community responsibility and a deeper sense of empathy for humanity.  Perhaps it is the result of our shared experience surrounding monumental world tragedies, from 9/11 and Katrina to Haiti and Revolutions in the Middle East.  Perhaps our access to information and the ease of direct communication to the smallest corner of the globe has allowed us to connect with the spirit that makes us all human.  Perhaps it’s all of those things.

Out of these events and attitudinal shift has come some real and substantive change.  If you have been in a boardroom, city planning meeting, business development seminar or political campaign strategy session in recent years – you have likely heard a unique set of buzzwords emerge. Collaboration.  Cooperation.  Creativity.  All admirable ideas – and in some cases – well executed concepts.

Having spent 20 years of my life developing, delivering and participating in team building and leadership programs nationwide – I am a devout believer in teamwork – in the idea that the collective mind is far greater than the individual.  I have been full-heartedly trekking down the “collaboration road” – believing in the “creative process” and trusting that it was leading to a better and more sustainable society.

But – like any interesting story – something else has happened along the way.  In my case – it was the brutal realization that many of my fellow travelers – while diligently reciting the buzzwords – are not fundamentally acting for the “greater good.”  The final straw broke on a recent trip to the grocery store.

“Don’t you want to help me win a contest?” asked the boy at the checkout counter.

As the flood of honest answers went through my head – I opted to take a more constructive approach.  Surrounded by the MDA Fundraiser Shamrocks — I knew what he was asking – and even believed in what he was doing.  I was just struggling with the sales pitch.  Why is this about him and why should I care if he wins a contest?

After a few inquiries to that effect – I could tell that the he was completely missing the point.  He had no idea why I found this approach troubling – which further illustrated my point.  As I handed him my dollar to support the cause – he handed me a pen write my name on the donation.  His confusion reached an all time high as I wrote his name (it was on his checkout nametag) in the blank space.  He was baffled as to why I would not want to take credit for my contribution.  “Good luck winning your contest,” I said as I walked out saddened by the whole experience.

I believe this charming teenage boy meant well.  I also believe he is a perfect illustration of a culture that has lost its center.

It’s as if the idea has shifted from “a good cause is deserving of individual and community support” to “I’m a good cause, I deserve your support.”  I think it’s called entitlement.  And I think it has taken over like kudzu.

This wasn’t the first time I have been shocked by the “What can you do for me?” — or worse yet – “you should want to make my life better” — attitude permeating our culture.  We have tolerated it in the business setting for years – and still do.  “Your purchase will help me reach my quota,” or “your order will send me into the next commission bracket” and so on.

In certain arenas, the shameless self-promoting world of social media has taken it to new heights but only recently have I noticed how much it’s being used as an actual business development strategy in both the non-profit and for-profit sector.  It’s disturbing.

When did “doing good for a worthy cause” become a vehicle for a self-promotion?  When did “collaboration” become an expectation that others give of themselves to make your life better – somehow forgetting the “giving of yourself” side of the equation?  Worse yet, when did we collectively start agreeing to this one-sided way of interaction?

So, what’s my point?

I think it’s simple.  Let’s kill the kudzu.

Let’s remember to consider what others really need – instead of the best way to get what we want from them.  Let’s get out of the “buzzword” business and remember the root of what is really important.  Let’s remember to promote the open sharing of ideas and the creative excellence that emerges.  Let’s celebrate individuality but not let individuals crush the brilliance of genuine community spirit.  Let’s start asking how we can make life better – rather than how others can make our lives better.

It’s not a particularly new idea – after all – it was 50 years ago that President Kennedy uttered the indelible words “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”

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