It’s early in the 20th century and you need to sell your factory’s products. There is no internet, no phones, no better way to get your product’s word out than to hire a salesman. Someone who can go visit your customers and overwhelm them with positive attitude and the benefits of your product. Someone with “personality.”
I’m reading the book ”Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Cannot Stop Talking” and I was surprised to learn that the word “personality” didn’t even exist until the 18th century and the idea of having a “good personality” wasn’t widespread until the 20th. As industrial America grew, so did the “Cult of Personality.” We came to value people as performers, as positive thinkers, as extroverts. As Americans moved from farming communities into cities, they were suddenly surrounded by strangers and the extroverts had a better chance of success and survival. In fact, an entire industry of “Self help” sprung up to help people become better at sales, public speaking and positive thinking.
18th century “Character Guides” focused on these attributes: Citizenship, Duty, Work, Golden Deeds, Honor, Reputation, Morals, Manners and Integrity.
Suddenly, in the Dale Carnegie “How to Win Friends and Influence People” world of the twentieth century, the new “Self Help” Guides emphasized words like: Magnetic, Fascinating, Stunning, Attractive, Glowing, Dominant, Forceful and Energetic.
This Cult of Personality has blossomed into the “Me Culture” of Self Esteem, Plastic Surgery, Celebrity Worship, Tattoos, Fad Diets, Credit Card Excess and all the other excesses that result in seeing ourselves as showmen.
Funny thing just happened…. Wait: Can You Hear It?
That’s the internet running over travel agents, insurance men, car salesmen, all being weeded out by technology. Anyone who is classified as a middleman is on the endangered species list. And, there is a sea change coming in the way we view people. The economic environment has caused us to re-examine materialism and debt, the global environment has caused us to reconsider the way we treat the planet and the spiritual environment is causing us to all look for meaning in our lives. Fast talking is no longer a marketable skill.
My prediction? The twentieth century was the century of the extrovert. This century is already morphing into the century of the artist. We will value attributes like Creativity, Design, Sustainability, Sincerity and Ethics. I’m ready, how about you?
Go Make Something.