Why is LinkedIn so lame?

Gladiator

Ten things you should never say in an interview.

Why valuing your employees makes good business sense.

How companies lose great employees.

What great managers have in common: an essential guide.

This is a sample of articles and original blogs posted by my LinkedIn network over the past few months. Thanks to LinkedIn, I can readily identify the telltale signs of a bad manager. I have learned the secrets of effective salary negotiation. I know that many people during the last years of their lives believe they should have taken more chances. I know how Google motivates its employees, and I’ve read that one graduation speech by Steve Jobs. Or was it George Karlin? Surely not Vonnegut.

Whoever it was, it was great. I now know not to take anything for granted, and to make time for the things that are important because they—or I—might not be here tomorrow.

I am awash in platitudes.

The feeling I get when perusing blogs on LinkedIn reminds me of a three-hour layover I once had in Kuwait. Not wishing to stray too far from my gate, I wandered into the section of the airport bookstore which carried the largest selection of English titles: Business Leadership. I leafed through several books which taught me how to reengineer my corporation, awaken my giant within, and move from good to great.

The way I felt reminded me of the time I ate nearly half the cake at my twin boys’ fifth birthday party: very enjoyable while it was happening, and absolutely terrible immediately after.

These were not books insomuch as they were expanded PowerPoint presentations. (Busy executives presumably do not have time to read complete sentences—only bullet points can pierce that armored intellect.) But putting the awkwardness of the format aside, it was the content which really failed. Nearly everything I read was based on the assumption that life-altering insights could be packaged into neat, little thought-pills and inserted directly into my consciousness, where they would quickly germinate and give me a heightened, Zen-like awareness of how to succeed in business.

Now, am I saying it’s wrong to read books which claim they can change your life with minimal effort on your part?

Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

If you really want to change your outlook or improve the quality of your decision making, it’s probably going to take more than consuming the literary equivalent of a candy bar. I have always believed that books can change lives, but that doesn’t mean that all books have this capacity. It takes powerful, rare insights to really snap you out of your familiar grooves. Books that do this make us want to engage in the hard work of actual change, and we rightly celebrate these books when we find them. It’s why On the Road occupies a different place than Awakening the Giant Within. Why Walden has nothing to fear from Leadership Secrets of Lao-Tzu. Great books have the power to change us. Junk food also has the power to change us, just not in the way we had wanted.

Which brings me back to LinkedIn.

Because LinkedIn’s raison d’etre is to connect people with new job opportunities, more courting goes on here than at a Bird of paradise singles bar. (Go on, I’ll wait.) This isn’t a forum of our peers as much as it is an endless beauty pageant where we carefully select and broadcast only those aspects of ourselves which are least likely to alienate a would-be employer: opinions which we already know are safe because they are widely held by others.

Because how can one possibly object to the idea that we should live every day to the fullest? That employees are our most important resource? That everyone deserves respect? Nothing there to cause a recruiter to think twice before hittingsend on a connection request.

Nothing is wrong with the occasional reminder of things we already know to be true, but when everyone on a social network behaves this way, it produces a dense fog of vapid prose masquerading as real conversation. If those who publish mass market business paperbacks are guilty of peddling snake oil because they promise to change your world with aphorisms, how should we judge the people we actually know who do this? And they’re not even trying to disguise these tired bromides as unique observations— the whole point is to make you take comfort that someone already agrees with you whether you know them or not.

Because so much of our interaction with others occurs across social networks, it’s easy to mistake the person wearing the digital facepaint for the actual person we know and like. And when you see all of your friends and acquaintances trading in the same currency of hollow platitudes, it’s easy to feel that this must somehow be normal, and that you alone are missing the point if you don’t play along.

But it’s not normal. Imagine if you rented a hall to host a live event with all of your LinkedIn contacts. Now imagine that whenever they opened their mouths to speak, what came out were the same kind of verbal opiates you read on their status updates and blog posts. Sound like the kind of party you’d want to attend?

Self-censorship is defeating in the long run. The more we promulgate the illusion of a vacuous self, the more we unwittingly train hiring managers to seek safe, anodyne people for the jobs they fill. But the reverse is also true: the more we speak and act authentically, the more managers will see that the labor market is comprised of real people who possess unique thoughts, values, and beliefs. That you are complex, and more than just a repository of trite koans. And the more real we are, the easier it becomes for others to try doing it themselves.

So join me in a Declaration of LinkedIndependence:

I will not spend my time trading in platitudes: Post fluff, and I’ll hide your stuff.

I withhold my golf clap from clichés: I will not hit Like on posts that bubble up from the Magic Eight Ball of Obvious.

I will only post topics that I find genuinely interesting, or which tell me something new about the world. Like the fact that dinosaurs were probably covered with feathers.

Think it’s impossible to change the culture of banality on LinkedIn?

Nothing is impossible, my friends: the word itself says “I’m possible!”


Originally published on– what else? –LinkedIn.