I had the privilege yesterday of meeting and listening to probably the most energetic Canadian I’ve ever met. Jamie Clark was the keynote speaker before me at a sales kickoff here in Fort Lauderdale. We had never met and we certainly did not coordinate our talks, but I was struck by the similarity of messages that we both delivered.
Jamie is an adventurer and entrepreneur who has climbed the Seven Summits and made four attempts on Everest, the last two of which were successful. He spoke about the first three attempts, and rightly spent most of his time talking about his failures, because in many ways failure is probably more interesting—and certainly more educational—than success.
Failure is interesting and educational because when properly handled it provides painful but useful information about your weaknesses and the gaps you need to close to become good enough to reach an ambitious goal. As Jamie told hilarious stories about his early mistakes and rejections, he stressed that one thing he had going for him was that he always asks why he failed. When he was first turned down to join the expedition team for his first Everest attempt, he went back and asked way, and was told, “Because you’re an idiot.” But at least this idiot figured out a way to be a little less of an idiot and eventually found a way to weasel (his word) his way on to the team.
I won’t go into the rest of the fascinating details of his talk (mainly so he can’t sue me for plagiarism) but one theme emerged very clearly as Jamie’s story unfolded. Through the years that it took to finally reach the summit, Jamie found that the less he thought about himself and the more he thought about the good of the mission and the team, the closer he got to his goal. He called it “service to the mission”, and it was a powerful message.
My talk was more in the form of a workshop than an inspirational speech, but my central idea was exactly the same, albeit with different words. I’ve written many times in here about outside-in thinking, which is the ability and the attitude to look at things from the perspective of your customer. When you focus on making your customer successful, good things will happen and you will be successful too. The more you focus on what you want the further it gets. Outside-in thinking ennobles the purpose of your profession—as Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
You’re a salesperson, so you probably aren’t going to have a mission as exciting as climbing the world’s tallest peaks. But if you make it your mission to make your customers successful, and you serve the mission faithfully, you can definitely reach the heights of your profession.
No, it’s not a typo. Megative is a word I’ve coined to describe the tendency some people have to puff everything up; everything is mega. Megative people use awesome and world-class to describe even the most average and mundane things. To them, everything is the greatest, or the absolute worst. There is very little middle ground or nuance, because moderation is for sissies. More familiar synonyms are hyperbole, puffery, immoderation and bullshit, and in this post-truth time we’re living in, it appears to be getting more and more common. But is it bad? Is megative negative?
If I were to be megative, I would stake out an extreme position and tell you it’s the worst thing in the world or the best. But the truth is, it depends.
First, it depends on why or how it’s used. There are four types of megativity which I can think of. (There may be more, but since I made up the word, I can claim to be the world’s greatest expert on it.) Starting from the most positive and heading downhill from there, they are:
- Built-in megativity, which is a natural part of your personality. The best example I can think of is my friend John Spence, who looks at the brightest possible side of anything he encounters; even when you think he overdoes things, you don’t mind because his enthusiasm is infectious.
- Marketing megativity, which is using it as an effective tool for influence, as in the examples I’ve described. People may discount it, but they see it as a legitimate form of expression, and in fact if you aren’t exaggerating a little, maybe you’re not trying hard enough.
- Dunning-Kruger megativity, so named because of the psychological effect whereby those who are least competent in a topic are most self-confident. D-K megativity is ignorant self-delusion, where you actually think you are the world’s greatest. By coincidence, the initials match nicely what I call DK², which is when you don’t know what you don’t know.
- Bald-faced lying. When Trump says such and such a policy will be terrific, it’s tough to tell whether it’s marketing or self-delusion. But when he says he won one of the greatest landslides in history, that’s outright lying. (Obviously, since he won the election, it worked for him. But you’re not him and you’re a serious business communicator, so don’t try it.)
Megative statements have the power to persuade, or they can backfire on you. Let’s look at the pros and cons:
The first two types of megativity can make you a more persuasive communicator, for the following reasons:
It can grab the audience’s attention. In his new book, Thank You for Being Late, Thomas Friedman writes: “The moment that Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone turns out to have been a pivotal junction in the history of technology and the world.” You can’t get any more megative than that. Whether you agree or disagree with the statement, you’re compelled to keep reading, to find out why he says that or how he backs up such a brash statement.
Megative statements are especially useful to snap your audience into attention at the beginning of presentations. Once, I taught a class on presentations to senior executives, and I began by saying: “Welcome to possibly the most important class you will ever take.” When I said that, I had every eye in the room riveted on me, and I knew I had them. (However, note that a truly megative person would not have used the word possibly.)
Megative statements, even though they are by definition less likely to be true, can actually make you more credible because they exude confidence, and confidence sells. Being social animals, humans are exquisitely sensitive to verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate relative levels of status within groups. Those who act more assertively and confidently tend to be accorded higher status, and in general are perceived to be more competent than they actually are.
Megative talk sells, because it shows passion and enthusiasm. As the world’s master of megative talk says: “People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.”
Megative talk may also harness the power of anchoring. While they may discount your initial evaluation, it’s possible that they won’t adjust enough, so you end up closer to where you wanted to be. It’s similar to what Robert Cialdini calls the “Door In The Face” (DITF) influence technique, where you ask for something outlandish and get refused, and then your next request seems much more reasonable.
The last two forms of megativity can easily backfire on you.
Others will automatically discount what you say. Megative statements can be like swearing in that they have shock value at first which quickly wears off the more you use them. You also run the risk that the audience will quickly adjust to your statements and automatically discount what you say. Like a drug, you’ll have to use stronger and stronger language just to achieve the same effect.
Megativity is less effective with certain audiences. For example, I work a lot with engineers and scientists who place a huge premium on data to back up what you say. So, if you are going to use it, be prepared to back it up.
At some point, you may be called upon to put your money or your performance where your mouth is. Dunning-Kruger megativity can get you in a ton of trouble, because your claims will inflate expectations that you will then have to meet—and that’s not likely to end well.
Please spread the word—literally! With your help, megative will be the biggest word of 2017, maybe even 2016 if you act now!!!!!
Let’s be completely honest with ourselves: sometimes we give gifts to others at least as much to make ourselves look good as to make the recipient happy. For example, when you buy a bottle of wine to give to someone important, you want to get something they will enjoy, but you also want to show your good taste and sophistication.
It’s the same way with books: if there is someone you want to suck up to, maybe your boss’s boss or a prospective client, here are some book recommendations that will meet both goals. They will please the recipient and mark you as an especially discerning and intelligent person at the same time.
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman is one our most important thinkers, who won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work, even though he’s a psychologist. This book is both instructive and entertaining, and will help you understand the quirky workings of the human mind. If you’re unsure whether to give this book as a gift, think of what will happen if someone else does before you do.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant. Grant is described as a top-rated teacher at Wharton, and this book shows why. There are several reasons you might not want to get this book for someone, the most important one being that it can be dangerous to be perceived as an original thinker, especially within a large organization.
Pre-Suasion, Robert Cialdini. This is the newest book by one of the acknowledged legends of the influence world. Honestly, I didn’t think it was as good as the book which he’s famous for: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, but giving it will make you look smart and up to date.
Superforecasting, Philip Tetlock. This book is full of practical ideas to improve your judgment and predictive ability. Using the National Intelligence Council’s 7-point scale, I predict that you are almost certain to impress anyone you give this book to, especially if they think you’ve read it.
How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, by Kevin Ashton. This book will fascinate and impress anyone who works in or with technology, and they might even find creative ways to thank you for it.
Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Surviving in an Age of Accelerations, by Thomas Friedman. I’m breaking my own rule by recommending a book that I haven’t finished reading yet, but I didn’t want to be late in making this recommendation. If you’re concerned about the state of the world, Friedman will restore your optimism.
P.S. One of the best qualities of each of these books is that they are each so well-written that the recipient will actually read them. So, if you’re going to give one of these, it’s a good idea to buy a copy for yourself and read it!
 Although I have to admit I read it and still got the 2016 election wrong.
This Wednesday, I began the day by reading the sports section in the Miami Herald. Then, I went to my desk to work on my current book project about high-margin selling. Somehow the quirky chemical mixture in my brain catalyzed both those activities into the idea in this post: goals are good, but expectations are better.
The article in the sports section concerned the Miami Dolphins, who are on a six-game winning streak after beginning the season with just one win in five tries. As a fan, I’m just happy about the wins, but as a blogger I’m more impressed with how they have won. In almost all their victories their chances of winning were either bleak or severely threatened late in the fourth quarter. Two weeks ago, they looked pathetic for the first three and a half quarters against the LA Rams, and trailed 10-0 with five minutes left. Somehow, their offense came to life and they scored 14 points to win the game. Last week, they had a 17 point lead in the fourth, but had to make a last-ditch goal line stand to prevent the 49ers from tying the game in the last seconds.
The “same old Dolphins” of recent years would never have showed the resiliency to deal with adversity late in the game. The article I read explained how the culture of the team has changed under new coach Adam Gase. While the Dolphins have always wanted to win, and have gone into every game with the goal of winning, for the first time in a long time they now go into games expecting to win.
“Coach Gase came in trying to establish a winning culture,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. Now, “we go into games not hoping to win but expecting to win. When you approach the game expecting to win, that’s usually the outcome.”
Even when things might have looked bleak to the fans, the players have expected to win. When quarterback Ryan Tannehill took the field with five minutes left, he told the players that they would win the game.
So, what does this have to do with high-margin selling?
Negotiating a fair price for your product or service with demanding buyers can be just as tough a game as football, one in which relative power, strategy, skill, and attitude are all critical factors in determining the outcome. The first three factors shape your expectations, and then your expectations shape your attitude.
As Wharton professor G Richard Shell says, “Research on negotiation confirms that anyone who is willing to take the time to develop higher expectations will do significantly better and do so without putting his relationship or reputation with others at risk.”
He then adds: “What is the difference between a simple goal and something that has matured into a genuine expectation? Basically one thing: your attitude.” 
So much has been written about the importance and the power of goal-setting, and I agree that it’s critical to set goals. However, there is a clear difference between a goal and an expectation:
- An expectation is a considered judgment, which means it’s based on hard-headed reality, on knowing and not just wanting. An expectation is “earned belief”, as Roger Bannister showed the world.
- You can choose any goal you want, but you can’t choose your expectations; they grow organically through the work and preparation you put in.
- Goals can often be extrinsic, imposed on you by others, but expectations can only be intrinsic; intrinsic beliefs put down deep roots and produce hardy plants.
Don’t get me wrong, goals are extremely useful and valuable. But expectations are even better, especially in any competitive activity that involves a clash of wills, whether it’s sports, sales, or even politics and war. That’s because your expectation shows through in the way you interact with others. The attitude that you bring to the field or negotiating table is contagious, and imbues your dealings with others with a quiet but palpable confidence. When they see your confidence despite their best efforts, it has to shake theirs a bit.
Dealing with your customer is different from sport in that it does not have to be—in fact, should not be—competitive. If you’re doing your job right, earning a higher price is not necessarily a zero-sum game in which one side wins and the other party automatically loses. That’s why if you have a reasonable expectation based on fact that your solution is better and worth the higher price, you can accord your buyer with confidence that they’re making the right decision, which is especially helpful if they have to sell the deal internally.
The resiliency the Dolphins have showed is a direct result of their expectations. Expectations cultivate conviction which in turn affects your perceptions of what happens during the process. Many things happen that can be viewed as setbacks or opportunities. When the Dolphins returner fumbled a punt on their own two yard line in the San Diego game, the defenders said to themselves, “This is exactly what we like, an opportunity to show how good we are.” It’s confirmation bias at work: if you expect to lose, anything that goes wrong is confirmation that you were right. If you expect to win, anything that goes wrong is just a minor speed bump. That attitude is at the heart of resiliency; it’s not just a refusal to surrender, it’s an incapacity to even consider surrender.
Keep on setting goals. But then get to work immediately to turn them into expectations.
 G. Richard Shell, Bargaining for Advantage, p. 24.