10/09/2013 - 06:59

Where are the quiet achievers?

10/09/2013 - 06:59

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The public may claim to dislike ‘personality politics’, but evidence of our obsession with image is all around us.

Where are the quiet achievers?

The public may claim to dislike 'personality politics', but evidence of our obsession with image is all around us.

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The sun has finally set on another federal election campaign, which is good news on many different levels.

Least of all it means it’s safe once again to venture into prime time TV viewing without fear of being accosted by all those over-the-top, overly dramatic political ads.

One breath of fresh air during the campaign was ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet, which last week featured Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott (not together, of course).

I thought Mr Abbott’s admission that he saw politics as “theatre” quite revealing; perhaps an acknowledgement our elected representatives are in the public spotlight, playing a role in the political soap opera.

We live in an age of the 24-7 news cycle, a time of ‘personality politics’, which is really just another term for the micromanagement of the public face of our politicians.

Ironically, shows like Kitchen Cabinet are little more than the ‘soft-sell’ side of this media manipulation. But we lap it up.

Leadership has been supplanted by theatrics, and it’s not just a concern for our politicians.

It runs like a dangerous electrical current through so many different aspects of our world, including business.

Major companies demand strong media performances from their leaders, which create a natural bias towards extroverts, not necessarily because they have the brightest ideas but because they look like the smartest person in the room.

Back when I was in primary school, my year three teacher gave me the BP Quiet Achiever award.

I’m not sure why this stands out in my memory, quite possibly because it was one of the only awards I received along my distinctly lacklustre academic journey.

But I often think back to it and marvel at two things – one that a behemoth oil company like BP marketed itself as the Quiet Achiever, and how much we have embraced noisy, extrovertism.

I can’t think of any company with the word quiet in its positioning line.

It’s an adjective only air-conditioning and dishwasher companies like to spruik these days.

Tellingly, if you google the word ‘quiet’ you get a series of hits about introverts and how they have been marginalised almost everywhere, from the boardroom to the classroom.

At the other end of the scale there are legendary tales of outrageous behaviour from the leaders of some of the world’s best-known and successful companies – although it’s important not to confuse quirky and unconventional with egotistical extroverts cum sociopaths.

A little bit of personality can go a long way, and in business and politics we desperately need individuals who can see beyond the bureaucratic roadblocks and the tangle of red tape to unearth truly groundbreaking solutions.

These people, who more often than not sail uncomfortably close to the regulatory winds and ignore long-held social conventions, are also the men and women who effect real change.

Perhaps our love affair with extroverts can be added to the growing pile of social ills heaped at the feet of technology, and the creeping influence of the digital space.

The internet and the rapid rise of social media platforms have given voice to billions of people without ever demanding they reveal their identity or asking them to take responsibility for their opinions.

It should be the perfect platform for introverts and ensure that their voices and views are part of the debate, but somehow the conversation is still dominated by a noisy few.

That’s not to say there aren’t good examples of grassroots, online campaigns that have forced change, such as the mother who took issue with what she saw as Target’s age-inappropriate designs for little girls.

But they’re not the norm.

Celebrities have harnessed social media to share every living moment of their lives and further bolster their public profiles, often plugging sponsors’ products while passing it off as ‘lifestyle’ (and failing to disclose their financial interest).

It’s a strange world where no-one seems to have much right to privacy or particularly want it, judging by the Facebook accounts of some of my younger colleagues and the personal information they happily share in the public sphere.

I’m sure there’s a sizeable cohort of plus 35s out there glad that Smartphones, YouTube and Instagram weren’t around ‘in the day’ – thankful all that dirty laundry has been put out of sight.

And for the sake of the children – or our respectable, grown-up profiles – we keep it on the downlow. It’s a quiet achievement all of its own.

 


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