Superachiever Secret Power: Humility


Illustration of Alec Baldwin, Robert Carlock and the "30 Rock" writers by Josh Gosfield

Despite his often bombastic personality, Alec Baldwin was the epitome of humility when it came to the writers of “30 Rock” Illustration by Josh Gosfield

The very concept of humility can make us queasy. In this self-promotional era of social media flaunting and positive thinking, to be humble can seem to put us at a competitive disadvantage or seem hollow. As Jane Austen put it, “Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility.”

To understand humility, it’s helpful to first take a look at its mirror image, pride. Not the kind of pride in which we maintain a healthy self-regard or feel satisfaction in a job well done, but the excessive pride of what 17-century philosopher Spinoza described as “thinking more highly of oneself than is just.”

In Christian teachings pride was condemned as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But according to modern research, pride is the result of a dizzying array of cognitive distortions from illusory superiority to egocentrism, including a host of skewed tricks of the mind such as the confirmation bias, hindsight bias, overconfidence phenomenon and gambler’s fallacy. Numerous studies have shown that we construct and reconstruct our opinions, memories and self-worth relative to others in order to flatter ourselves. In other words, pride is our default setting, causing us to warp the raw data of reality in order to convince ourselves that we are better than we actually are. Continue reading

Are you Negotiation Phobic?

Handshake Illo

Forty-Nine Percent of job candidates never negotiate an initial employment offer. Do you?

Are you negotiation-phobic? Are you so risk-averse that in a job interview you blurt out, “Thanks, I’ll take it!” in response to whatever salary you’re offered? If so, you’re not alone. Even though many employers admit to lowballing initial offers in the expectation of a negotiation, many job candidates, it turns out, just grab the first offer.

Not negotiating, however, can be more costly than you think. In their paper “Who Asks and Who Receives in Salary Negotiation,” researchers Michelle Marks and Crystal Harold found that employees who negotiated their salary boosted their annual pay on average of $5,000. According to the researchers, assuming a 5% average annual pay increase over a 40-year career, a 25-year-old who negotiated a starting salary of $55,000 will earn $634,000 more than a non-negotiator who accepted an initial offer of $50,000.

And in a recent study to find out how many people on both sides of the desk do–or don’t–enter into the fray of salary negotiation, CareerBuilder, the largest online job site, found that an astounding 49% of job candidates never even try to negotiate initial job offers. Continue reading

Simple, Direct, Honest, Personal and Blunt:
How the 5-word Performance Review Works Wonders

Paul English

Paul English, cofounder of Kayak, hated some of the performance reviews he got as an employee. So when he became a boss, he decided to do something about it.

The dreaded performance review–unless it’s “You’re fired!”–is often an unfocused, indirect thicket of bureaucratic language that is not helpful for either boss or employee. It can be an exercise that sheds little light but creates a lot of anxiety and resentment for everyone involved. When we caught up with Paul English, cofounder of, the travel search engine, to ask him about his five-word reviews we found out that there was a whole lot more to his philosophy of feedback.

So how did you get this idea of five-word performance reviews?

There was a guy who worked for me back at InterLeaf (a Massachussetts-based software company). He was given feedback weekly, but nothing changed. So I wanted to be really clear with him to make sure that he understood the feedback. I didn’t want to give him a long list of details. Five words was a trick I came up with to make myself be blunt. I literally wrote it on a crinkled phone bill and said, “I want to be really clear that these are the things that we love about you and these are the things that suck.” Continue reading

Yogi Berra’s Mantra For the Masses

Baseball legend Yogi Berra’s advice to aspiring athletes—or to anyone struggling to make it to the top of his or her profession—is as practical as what he told himself when he was struggling to earn a place in the Major Leagues.

Yogi Berra, considered one of baseball’s greatest catchers of all time, was the linchpin of the New York Yankees dynasties from 1946 to 1960 and holds the record for playing on the most World Series Championship teams ever. You might assume from his head-scratching Yogi-isms (“It’s déjà vu all over again!” “I really didn’t say everything I said.”) that Berra approached the game from an oddball perspective. But from our interview with him for our book on a chapter about “How to Make It as a Major-Leaguer,” we were surprised to learn that Berra’s astounding on-field success was rooted in clear-eyed realism.

Although his dream was always to be a Major Leaguer, Berra’s path to the big leagues was never assured. Like any athlete aspiring to make it as a professional, the percentages were against him. Berra’s awkward style of play put off scouts for Major League teams. After four years in the minors and a stint serving in the Navy during WW II, Berra was finally called up by the New York Yankees. But to remain on the team he had to work hard to switch from the outfield to catcher, a position that did not come naturally to him. Continue reading

Is Your Resume Hopelessly Out of Date?

Leonardo Da Vinci Resume, Hoepli edition

Leonardo Da Vinci Resume, Hoepli edition

Resumes have been around since at least 1482 when the not-yet-famous Leonardo Da Vinci sent a list of his skills and accomplishments to the Duke of Milan. Da Vinci hoped to get a gig as an architect, sculptor or even, perhaps, as an inventor of war instruments.

That was over 500 years ago and the resume has hardly changed at all. The standard, imageless, single-font resume is about as thrilling to look at as a page in the phone book.

But recently, some job seekers are telling the stories of their careers visually and giving the resume a whole new look. Continue reading

How Groundbreaking Artists Steal — And What We Can Learn From Them

Gosfield’s influences (left) and an image from his fine art project.

Josh (co-author of “The Art of Doing”) never would have been able to create his fine art project of a fictional celebrity, Gigi Gaston, The Black Flower, had he not stolen from the history of graphic design. He studied—then methodically recreated—the design styles and photographic trends of fanzines, 45 and LP covers, American and European scandal and celebrity magazines from the 60’s and 70’s, to create a fictional but ultimately believable, archive of his star.

Pablo Picasso was a genius at being a thief. “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” he allegedly said.

African art that inspired Picasso to paint Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

When Picasso first saw African artifacts, he was inspired to “steal” the style, features and motifs, and commit the revolutionary act of inventing cubism. And of course he wasn’t the only one. Instead of merely copying from Masters who came before them, other groundbreaking artists stole from styles outside the realm of what was considered acceptable fine art—Andy Warhol stole from commercial art, Cindy Sherman from film stills, Jean-Michel Basquiat from folk art, Damien Hirst from utilitarian museum displays.

Warhol “stole” from commercial art to create his iconic Campbells soup can

Cindy Sherman took her cue from film stills.

Jean-Michel Basquiat purloined styles from folk and urban art.

Damien Hirst appropriated museum-like display.

Because these artists had the audacity to steal from outside the boundaries of their worlds and create styles that had never been seen in galleries or museums, their work had shock value—gold in art world currency. The new imagery had the power to make viewers not only re-examine but often rethink their original perception of the source material. After Warhol, can anyone look at a Campbell’s soup can as just a can of soup?

Cross-disciplinary thieving doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) apply just to artists. If you’re going to write a romance novel, why not steal from pornography and end up with a “50 Shades of Grey”? If you’re going to start a cable channel, why not steal from the Hollywood feature film aesthetic and end up with an HBO? If you’re going to launch a social media platform, why not steal from mobile text messaging and end up with a Twitter? And by being the first, you become the standard by which all followers will be judged.

So whatever it is you do, whether you’re an artist, a startup entrepreneur or a magazine editor, look to influences outside your chosen field to find inspiration and the shock of the new.