I am selfish, are you?

You have probably heard about the Fast Company Influence Project. As Fast Company states:

“Influence is not only about having the most friends or followers. Real influence is about being able to affect the behavior of those you interact with, to get others in your social network to act on a suggestion or recommendation. When you post a link or recommend a site, how many people actually bother to check it out? And what’s the likelihood of those people then forwarding it on? How far does your influence spread?”

Another definition of influence, as you can find on dictionary.com is:

the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others

Influence is simply the ability to affect an action. Nothing more, nothing less. The Fast Company project is measuring influence, plain and simple.

Now, to be fair, there are plenty of people who have come out strongly against the project, a couple of great post that you should check out include:

  • Breaking Rant: Fast Company is Incredibly Stupid . from Esteban Kolsky. While I disagree with the majority of the argument being made, it is important that you understand this key point: “Your influence both varies and carries across all your social networks and fluctuates almost by the minute based on your last (and next action).
  • How Fast Company Confused Ego with Influence , from Amber Naslund. Amber states “It’s about the trust, authority, and presence to drive relevant actions within your community that create something of substance“. While trust, authority, and presence impact your ability to influence they are not the same as influence. They are contributing factors to your ability to successfully influence.

Alright, so there are certainly arguments to be made that this is a popularity contest, something to stroke the ego, and other negatives as well. Fair points that go to the core of your purpose, your mission. My mission is simple… Spread the word of The Social Ecosystem as a framework to maximize an organizations ability to meet its goals. I am certainly selfish enough to ask you to take two minutes to vote for me, to help me increase reach, increase visibility, to get this message out there.

Help spread the word about The Social Ecosystem

So, are you too righteous to promote your efforts, yourself, your organization? Trust me, if you won’t do it you’ll have a hard time having others do it for you. Sometimes being a little selfish is necessary…. What do you think?


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John Moore

Bill, my response is wow! I would love to have your input and insights into The Social Ecosystem. Organizational alignment, change management, leadership and management are critical components and you’ve clearly dug into these concepts. Let me know if you are interested.

Dannielle Blumenthal

This is a very interesting project from a sociology-psychology point of view.

I don’t think the question is about being righteous though.

I’ll promote a cause if it’s something I believe in. My organization if that is my responsibility (and I am able to be upfront with the audience that I am a paid representative). Myself if I need to in order to get an idea across (again something I believe in) or for career growth.

But pure self promotion is offensive to me. When I see it in the social media ecosystem I think it violates a basic rule of social media which is that it should be free and not secretly self promotional.

John Moore

Thanks Dannielle, great point that:

“violates a basic rule of social media which is that it should be free and not secretly self promotional”

I agree with you completely on that. You’ll note that my post says “vote for me”, clearly self-promotional and making no bones about it. What would I do if I can generate enough visibility? Talk about the Social Ecosystem, talk about the need for education across organizational types and geographies, etc. I am okay with being self-promotional as The Social Ecosystem is something I want to succeed.

One of my upcoming post will be Core Values of The Social Ecosystem and I will, with your permission, add that phrase (with credit to you) as it is an important principle. If violated it leads to broken trust and ultimate failure.

Gary Berg-Cross

I think that sometimes reducing a concept like influence or friendship to a simple bottom lines helps make something more efficient. But in the process we may lose something or at least be confused by some aspect of our connections and influence.

This point was made in an article called Friendship in an Age of Economics publishd in the Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com July 04, 2010

The argument there is that to preserve some cherished human bonds, we must push back against some bottom line ideas that spill out of an investment and return on investment model -what the author calls “Entrepreneurial relationships”.

For example we benefit from our networks and close friendships, but some aspects of connects are not a matter of calculable gain and loss. “While we draw pleasure from them, they are not a matter solely of consuming pleasure” (or gain).

Early on in the article the auother argues that:

“Using people for one’s ends is not a novel practice. It has gained momentum, however, as the reduction of governmental support has diminished social solidarity and the rise of finance capitalism has stressed investment over production. The economic fruits of the latter have lately been with us, but the interpersonal ones, while more persistent, remain veiled. Where nothing is produced except personal gain, relationships come loose from their social moorings. “

Sterling Whitehead

I’m selfish because it (a) promotes my career and (b) improves friendships [the right kind of selfishness that is].

John Moore

Well said Sterling. This is a hot-button topic, part of the reason I think it warrants open discussion, debate, and respect for both viewpoints.

Gary Berg-Cross

“Selfishness” is a pretty provocative word covering lots of concepts. People can be self centered but not thoughtless of others. In a collaborative relationship, working on a common task appreciation of the other’s beliefs, intentions and desires in quite important.

I may prefer to work with people that are both strong willed and task oriented but yet a team player to use another catch phrase.

Bryan Conway JD, PMP

I would suggest that becoming a member of a social media website, entering your employment and educational background, and posting a picture appears a lot like engaging in self-promotion!

I don’t think there is anything wrong with being selfish (to a certain extent). Remember the instructions you receive on airplanes should the cabin lose pressure and oxygen masks deploy; ensure that you are able to breath before you attempt to help others! I don’t think you can effectively help others with their needs if your own needs are not met.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

I don’t think that the time and effort you spend to develop yourself to your fullest potential is being selfish. Rather, it is a duty you owe society. If everyone in society devoted their efforts to being their personal best (and assuming that their personal best is an ethical person), then society as a whole benefits from the aggregation of these personally-focused efforts.

It could also be considered part of our duty to promote our skills or knowledge so that others are aware of how we can contribute. Yes, I will derive personal benefits by self-promotion but society can also benefit by learning and utilizing my talents.

I once watched an interview with Eric Clapton where the interviewer called Clapton the greatest guitarist in music. Clapton stopped the interviewer and replied that the greatest guitarist is an unknown person who is probably playing his or her guitar in his or her basement right now. And this great talent is going unappreciated because the person is not sharing their talent. Clapton was just lucky and persistent in promoting his talent.

John Moore

Bill, sent you a friend request via govloop. Once you accept will mail you my thoughts re: your work and mine on the Social Ecosystem.

Rebecca Brown

I agree- In order to be influential you have to spread the word about yourself. No one else will do it for you. I enjoyed your style of writing..right to the point!

Caryn Wesner-Early

One of the foundations of democracy is that people act in enlightened self-interest. We have to be somewhat selfish in order to try to push society toward what we consider an ideal. (Of course, the enlightened part has kind of come loose from the self-interest part, but then…..)

Gary Berg-Cross


I wanted to add a few words around the value of openness and transparency that we may not have viewed in the context of “selfishness”.

You mentioned some foundations of Democracy. Liberal democracy like all societies leverage human traits, so they have to deal with based things like secrecy and ownership, but also with scarcity of talent and knowledge, elite control and selfishness. These are traits of all human cultures, but differ in how societies organize and what they value such as sharing knowledge. For example feudalism had plenty of selfishness and the other traits. But movements like the Enlightenment emphasized a more open, transparent society. With efforts like the Encyclopedia they opening the “floodgates of knowledge”. This allowed societies to harness some human characteristic (like selfishness) and bind them with rules and cultural norms, while at the same time letting be free to hold diverse opinions.

One gets an idea of the founders view of “Democracy” below is a paragraph written by James Madison, during the debates over the Constitution (cited by SF author David Brin in a debate on this topic). He discussed the self-centeredness of factions (to become political parties) and liberty to be have their opinions as they want.

“There are two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other,by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests. …Of the first remedy, it is worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire… But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency. The second expedient is as impracticable as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”

So self-center positions will exist and we let them be free, but they need not be destructive selfishness and can serve a useful role the way (using Madison’s Fire idea) that combustion drives engines. But our cultural engines (e.g. markets, democracy, courts and science) are enlightened as you say. Because following Jefferson’s advice we have had things like widespread public education. When working well we also use expert knowledge (education’s products) to convert groups self-serving/self-centered “heat” into useful, directed energy.

So we have imperfect tools (like markets and democratic processes) but they are useful in part because they have had more open information flows than the feudal past.