Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday Startup Lesson: Be a Suckup

In my freetime, I do things like read biographies of Henry Kissinger, Lyndon Johnson, and Andrew Carnegie. These books tend to epitomize the word tome, i.e. long ass book. Since I've read them, you don't have to.

While reading, I'm always looking for hints on how these men rose to power, their secrets to success.

It turns out there's a simple answer: Suck up to powerful older men.

All three, Kissinger, Carnegie, and Johnson, all were master flatterers who ingratiate themselves with powerful older men who could help then advance their careers.

All three cultivated powerful mentors that provided them with the opportunities that led to their success. If you take nothing else away from this article, remember: find a mentor.

Kissinger was the most systematic about this. While a Harvard grad student he created a journal called Confluence and asked important figures in public policy to write articles for him. Nearly everyone he asked was happy to write for a journal associated with Harvard. Kissinger would glowing praise each submission. Over the years, Kissinger kept in touch with many of them, and received letter of recommendation, job offers, and introductions for these people for the rest of his career.

Johnson targeted men who were his father's age. Johnson would install himself as a honorary son, leveraging the paternal feelings that he would deliberately engender in old men. He is unequivocally considered the most effective Senate leader ever because of his ability to convince old men, *cough*, I mean Senators to vote as he saw fit.

Carnegie took the path of hard work to make certain that he was noticed. However, he made certain people knew that he was working hard by advertising it. He didn't simply wait to be noticed. As a result, he was trusted by his superiors and given insider trading opportunities that made him wealthy by the age of twenty-five.

The Key to Effective Flattery

Ask for someone's else opinion. Tell them how smart they are.

This works because rich and powerful people always attribute their success to their intellect and/or hard work. Though, oftentimes, their success was due to luck.

I'm not going to explicitly tell you how to translate this advice into startup world. I'll simply say that there's a lot of VCs who are probably a lot older than you. Good luck.

And yes, flattery works exceptionally well on bloggers.