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Narcissism Is the New Black

By Critical Thinking FOXBusiness

Noah Kagan joined Facebook as a product manager in 2005. Eight months later, he was fired. The reason? The social network company was growing and changing rapidly in those early days and, instead of adapting to what Facebook (FB) needed, he made it about him:

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“I wanted attention, I put myself before Facebook,” Kagan, now founder of AppSumo.com, wrote in a blog post, “I hosted events at the office, published things on this blog to get attention and used the brand more than I added to it.” As a result, Kagan was deemed a “liability” and booted.

Kagan calls that a $100 million lesson – presumably the value of his fully vested stock grants or options when Facebook went public in 2012. Personally, I think that’s a stretch – he only lasted eight months and the company’s IPO was six long years away – but the point is well taken: Narcissism cost the young man a great deal.

I know that’s probably not a news flash. You’d have to be living under a rock with no Wi-Fi to miss all the hoopla over the “me generation,” not to mention the personal branding craze brought to us by the blogosphere, social media and user-generated content, aka Web 2.0.

Fair enough, but to hang the tsunami of narcissism sweeping our culture solely around the necks of the “entitled generation” would be an enormous mistake. As the generation that came of age coincident with Web 2.0, Millennials may have led the way down the path of self-obsession, but the rest of us followed close behind.

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To deny that that’s the case could only mean one thing: that we’ve all got our heads stuck so far up our smartphones, we can no longer see the light of reality. Truth is, what was once the exclusive domain of the rich and famous is now readily available to each and every one of us. Narcissism is the new black.

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But in his blog post, Kagan attempts to set the record straight about the path of self-promotion and self-absorption. He says the most important lesson learned from his extremely expensive screw-up was, “The BEST way to get famous is make amazing stuff. That’s it. Not blogging, networking, etc.” 

Not to read too much into his words, but in addition to being absolutely right, Kagan actually reveals three startling revelations about our culture. The first is that the stated goal is to get “famous.” Not “successful,” “wealthy,” “financially independent,” “fulfilled,” “happy” or even to “change the world,” but to become “famous.”

What’s fascinating about that choice of words is that it was likely meant to reflect the goal of his relatively broad audience. For what it’s worth, I do think he nailed it.

Revelation 1: The goal now is not to be successful, but to be famous.

Which brings us to the second revelation. However you frame the goal, Kagan correctly concludes that it’s achieved by building great products customers love, not by following the massively overhyped fads of the day: personal branding, “blogging, networking, etc.”  

The image accompanying the blog is a note from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg inscribed on a page of Strunk and White’s ”The Elements of Style,” which reads, “The product is strong in this one. Now learn some grammar.”

If nothing else, Zuckerberg has always known that everything is about the product, not him. And that maniacal focus on what matters is clearly what made him famous. But I’m sure the irony that his product, Facebook, helped to unlock all this narcissistic behavior among its billion or so users is not lost on Zuck, even if it is lost on most of us.

Revelation 2: You are not a product. Just ask Zuck.

Which brings us to the third revelation. “Why I got fired from Facebook (a $100 Million dollar lesson)” is a clickable headline if there ever was one. In other words, it was meant to get attention.

And Kagan’s stated reason for writing the post, “I’m TIRED of answering this question so I’d rather write it out and just point people to this post” simply does not pass the straight face test. Nobody would ask if they didn’t know about it. It’s circular logic.

So, I could be wrong, but it would appear that Kagan is still out to get attention and has not actually learned the lesson he seemed almost desperate to share. Now, I’m no shrink, but I do know a fair amount about narcissism (for personal reasons this is neither the time nor the place to share). And that, my friends, is narcissistic behavior.

Revelation 3: Narcissism is a pretty tough habit to shake.

It’s one thing to recognize you have narcissistic tendencies, it’s another thing entirely to change your behavior. And since this has become a relatively broad cultural phenomenon that’s still picking up steam, I’d say it’s here to stay. Like it or not, narcissism will remain the new black for a very, very long time.  

What do you think?

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