Bragging Your Way to Success

I’m reading business magazines again; I just bought the most recent issue of Fast Company. There’s a couple of things I might write about it in, but, as usual, I like to go for the low-hanging fruit first: the thing that struck my eye as I opened the table of contents was: “No. 20/Brash Talk; Box, Tesla, T-mobile, and WWE are thriving by embracing bluntless.” (Dear Waldo, which one is not like the other?) On page 97, we get a list of “Chief Bragging Officers” that includes John Legere, CEO of T-mobile. Since my sister just switched us to T-mobile, this caught my eye.

According to Fast Company, here is a sample of John’s bluntness: “During a January speech at the Consumer Electronics Show, Legere said, ‘AT&T is a total source of amusement for me. They are the ones that take my bullshit. Dumb move. They take the bait.” The article follows this up with the claim that “Legere’s profane rants… have allowed them to steal market share from gigantic competitors because their insults ring true for customers.”

Okay, let’s analyze that. What I’m going to start doing in this blog is use what I discuss in my book; we’ll look at this statement and analyze it using Tibetan syllogistic logic:

(1) Consider brash talk,
(2) It will help me gain market share,
(3) Because it rings true to customers.

True of false? The only way to know whether something is true or not is to run the three tests. Test #1: is there a relationship between (1) the subject and (3) the reason? If your brash talk rings true to customers, then it passes this test. We could argue the point, I think. Classically, in logic, you have to ask “for whom?” Consider the black stick, it’s a pen, because who sees it as one? I’m sure for some customers, Legere’s brash talk “rings true.” For all of them? I doubt it. (I’m one; he’s not impressing me.)

Test #2: if (3) is true, then (2) must be true. So, if something rings true for a customer, must you gain market share? I don’t think so; all we need to do is find one person, who even though they think Legere might be right, is put off his profanity (a fundamental Christian perhaps) and doesn’t switch to T-mobile. Or, even easier, find someone who might think Legere is right, but perhaps they already have a contract with Sprint, so that they don’t change due to the financial penalty of doing so. Or consider my friend, who went into the T-mobile store with me a few days ago and didn’t sign up with them because he didn’t want to buy a new iPhone (regardless of whether anything Legere says rings true or not).

What about test #3? If (2) is not true, then (3) must not be true. This one is even more clear: if you don’t gain market share, is it because your brash talk didn’t ring true to customers? As if any brash talk, as long as it’s true, would achieve its desired effect. To be honest, any time I’ve talked trash, true or not, it didn’t get me what I was trying to get (just the low opinion of others).

So what’s going on? Why the sudden interest (at least from Fast Company) in brash-talking CEOs? My guess is that some of them are getting away with it. If it’s “working” though, the reason why it’s working is because they’re doing something else. It is interesting though that there is a component of telling the truth here; perhaps customers are responding to hearing someone tell the truth. But is that the cause for more market share? That is, has anyone ever told the truth and lost market share?

So the real reason why these companies are reaching success is because they did or are providing a valuable service to their customers. My sister switched us because T-mobile convinced her in the long run it would be cheaper. So we’ll see if Mr. Legere’s “brash talk” continues to lead to T-mobile to success, or if–I’m predicting–Mr. Legere gets himself into trouble with his brash talk some time in the future and starts to take a different tact.

Thoughts?

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14 Responses to Bragging Your Way to Success

  1. Chuck Vedova says:

    Thank you for another great piece. I’d argue that there’s another mistake that Fast Company is making in trying to suggest that brash-talking CEO’s are causing the companies they work for to experience greater business success. A company the size of T-Mobile probably has 10,000 employees. The CEO is just one of those 10,000 employees. CEO’s generally do not assist customers at T-Mobile stores, answer tech support questions from T-Mobile customers, install cell phone towers or write the computer code that is essential to making the T-Mobile network, work. To the average T-Mobile customer – or potential customer – the CEO is not the most important person at T-Mobile. I’d willing to bet that most T-Mobile customers could not even name the CEO of T-Mobile. The people behind the sales counters at t-Mobile stores; the people who answer tech support questions from T-Mobile customers; the Network people who keep the T-Mobile network up and running at as close to 100% “uptime” as possible – those are the most important employees of T-Mobile to existing and potential T-Mobile customers. The CEO ? I think to most customers, the CEO is the equivalent of a sports team’s mascot. Fun to look at but the action is happening elsewhere.

    • ericbrinkman says:

      Haha. That’s some good trash-talking yourself, Chuck (“CEO is the equivalent of a sports team’s mascot”). I’m guessing he doesn’t think of himself that way. 😉

      But you make a great point; the assumption here is that the CEO is the primary contributor to a company’s success. The extent to which that is true is highly debatable. 😉

  2. Chuck Vedova says:

    Actually, my intention was not to trash CEO’s. I DID use a potent example, though, to highlight the point I was making – the role of CEO’s is often highly overblown. CEO’s have been portrayed as the equivalent of rock stars, celebrities – even geniuses ! – in recent decades. Which may also be part of the reason why so many CEO’s are paid astronomical salaries and given even more colossal stock options, benefit packages and “golden parachutes”. CEO’s have been portrayed and compensated as though the success of the entire corporation rests on their shoulders – and their work. I don’t think that’s the case – or the full story.

  3. Chuck Vedova says:

    CEO’s DO have an important – and thankless – role to play. They have to make SOME attempt to ensure that all 10,000 employees are acting in the customer’s best interests. If the salespeople behind the counters are being rude to customers; if the tech support people can not answer customers’ questions; if the cell towers are installed in the wrong places; if the Network people allow the network to be “up” only 50% of the time…customers are going to find a new company to give their business to. So who cares what the CEO of T-Mobile thinks of his company’s competitors ? If he can’t make “his” OWN company operate for the customer’s best interests – I suspect he will be out of a job, quickly.

  4. Chuck Vedova says:

    There’s another problem with Fast Company’s article – they seem to be making a big deal about market share (as you said – “to whom ?”). Sure, a company’s market share is important to SOME people – the people who work for the company and investors in the company. But the average customer of T-Mobile does not know what T-Mobile’s percentage of the overall cell phone market is, does not wonder what T-Mobile’s market share is – and quite frankly, does not care. An example of this is Apple Computer. Back in the 1980’s, Apple’s share of the personal computer market dropped to around 4%. 96% of all computers sold in a given year were computers running the Windows operating system. Did most people who use Apple computers know this ? I seriously doubt it. Did they care ? I also seriously doubt it. Having only 4% market share WAS an issue for some people – like the CEO of Apple. But the average Apple customer did not care. Now granted, Fast Company is a business magazine so Fast Company’s prime audience are business people who DO tend to care about things like market share. But market share is not a CUSTOMER’s issue. And to quote an old saying, “The customer is ALWAYS right”.

  5. Chuck Vedova says:

    So the CEO of T-Mobile appears to be making at least 2 potential mistakes: 1) talking brashly 2) emphasizing things in his public statements (market share) which his customers do not care about, Maybe he’s gambling that he can MAKE customers care about T-Mobile’s market share. And there IS a certain folklore wisdom about that – there’s that old saying that “everyone loves a winner”. But to use the sports team analogy again – there are sports teams in America who are famous for NOT winning, year after year, decade after decade. And yet those sports teams have some of the most dedicated fans. So it would appear that winning (having the most market share) is NOT “everything”…in the eyes of the customer.

  6. iggy says:

    Monks should never boast,imo.

  7. Starrb2000 says:

    I see this tactic not as brash talk, but as bullying. There are those that respond to bullies, by giving them their lunch money. I, on the other hand, will walk away.

    • ericbrinkman says:

      Sure, so that’s the emptiness of “brash talk.” Some people will see it as telling the truth; others will see it as bullying. Either is a valid perspective.

      • Chuck Vedova says:

        OK, so there’s the emptiness of “brash talk”. I’m with you so far. But isn’t this EXACTLY what causes schisms ? The forming of two (or more) “warring camps” ? The people who think Big Mouth is telling the truth are taking one side; the people who think Big Mouth is being a bully will take another side. The “Telling the Truth” people will think that the “Being a Bully” people are a bunch of complaining sissies. And the “Being a Bully” people will think that the “Telling the Truth” people are a bunch of heartless, callous morons. And if the people from the two different sides continue to talk to each other…oh my…conflict is CERTAIN is break-out. I can already hear the two sides yelling at each other: “You are a bunch of Sissies !” “Well, YOU are a bunch of Heartless Bastards !!!!” So saying that the words coming out of Big Mouth’s mouth are empty, does not seem to have helped us much. Or am I missing something ? (Chuck says with a seemingly-innocent smile on his face).

      • Chuck Vedova says:

        I thought more about what I just said. I think I know how to solve the problem of two opposing sides, two “warring camps”, having formed. What I called a schism. I talked about the formation of two sides, two camps, as though it was an inherently BAD thing. It’s actually a GOOD thing. The people who view Big Mouth as telling the truth will all get together; the people who view Big Mouth as just another bully will also find each other. And the people in both groups will be happy again – because everyone around them, in their immediate circle, thinks the same way !!!!! They may feel sad that the people in the other group have such a poor understanding of Big Mouth – but they no longer have to TALK to the other people. Chuck says with another seemingly-innocent smile…

      • Chuck Vedova says:

        But now I’m thinking about this situation even more and I realize what I just said is not the end of the story. Because we know what happens next. Some sincere, warm-hearted person, overflowing with good intentions, is going to notice these two groups. Someone is going to notice that two groups have formed – and they don’t talk well with each other, if they talk to each other at all. That sincere, earnest, warm-hearted person is going to decide that this is a problem – and they are going to try to fix the problem. They are going to try to get the two groups to talk nicely to each other. Oh my…if that sincere person is not very, VERY careful, they are going to stir-up people’s feelings again. People in both groups are going to feel as though the Mediator is telling them that they are WRONG in their views. Sigh…just when things have gotten peaceful – the two groups, the two sides, the two camps have formed and everyone is now talking with like-minded people…somebody comes along and “stirs the pot”, makes everyone feel like they are being told that they are WRONG in their views. Sigh…how I wish that Big Mouth had kept his / her big mouth SHUT. Because look at all these things that have happened – all because ONE person thought that THEY had the truth and could tell everyone else what the truth is !!!!!! Says Chuck, continuing bravely to try to keep a seemingly-innocent smile on his face…

      • ericbrinkman says:

        Haha. Sure, there are a lot of issues involved. But basically, yes, by being divisive Mr. Brash Talk is going to cause himself problems.

  8. Iggy Aztec says:

    If brash talk isn’t untrue, (and possibly not un-warranted), merely drawing distinctions between yours and some other business-model that reflect on the interests of the customer sounds like easy-money to me. (At least in the business-model there are quantifiable metrics, and therefore less hand-wringing goes into determining ‘what causes what’.) Have a great weekend.

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