By Tony Samson
IN OUR status culture that reflect wealth, power, and celebrityhood (entertainers and sports figures), claimed associations with icons is an indirect way to achieve instant status. So, knowing somebody, even tangentially, is a bid for reflected glory, a sort of “gilt by association.”
But does name-dropping still work?
The practice of professing closeness, affinity, shared experiences, even friendship, loosely defined as knowing each other’s nicknames, with someone powerful or exerting influence in an organization for the purpose of extracting favors and benefits or at least opening doors to such possibilities, no longer seems to work. Maybe powerful people are beginning to resent their names being abused and repeatedly invoked. With so many personalities using powerful people as license to break the law, the invoked ones are fighting back — please arrest anybody claiming I am behind their improper requests.
We can credit social media for the decline of intimidation using a claimed connection, which may or may not exist. Through the wonders of search engines, assertions are easily verified and declared spurious. (They weren’t even in the same school.)
The reason why anybody needs to drop names, other than his own, is a lack of personal clout. The name dropper is a non-entity. He simply can’t get past the reception desk manned by some Valkyrie disguised as security staff — what business do you have with our demigod? Does he know you?
The same few names, sometimes initials, are dropped by the anonymous herd. And with the acquisition of companies under fewer and fewer owners, the list of droppable names is shrinking. Former owners of businesses, the deceased, and those still under the social radar are excluded from the list. So, mathematically speaking, the name of one who controls a third of the GDP of this country is likely to be mentioned too many times by too many people to be even taken seriously — sure, you saw his face on TV.
Shakespeare scoffs at name-droppers. In Henry IV, a scene touches on this topic. Glendower: “I can call spirits from the vasty deep.” Hotspur replies: “Why, so can I or so can any man. But will they come when you call them?” This exchange can be roughly translated in digital terms as: sure you can text her but will she text back? (Who’s this?)
The owner of the dropped name is rarely queried to find out if he indeed knows the name-dropper, and are they as tight as brothers? The time of the venerable one is too valuable to be taken up by such a mundane query by someone from HR vetting an applicant. The leader is put on the spot if he acknowledges that truly he knows the person, though vaguely. He may ask why the caller is checking with him. Does this underling think the only qualification for the job is a claimed connection to the chief? Can this querying insect please give her name, employee number, and direct report?
Name-dropping seldom sways anyone to be more favorably disposed towards the offender. If the mighty one really endorsed your project, he would have called or sent an emissary. Thus, persons in authority simply ignore anyone who resorts to this overrated approach for securing favors.
A subtle version of name dropping involves story telling. A seemingly aimless narration of invitations received, dinners shared, gifts exchanged, vacations planned, opinions sought can accidentally include names. (Please keep this to yourself.) A touch of reluctance and shoulder shrug helps: I didn’t even accept the invitation. This indirect approach can be more effective, especially if true. No specific request is even mentioned in the conversation. It is capped by a throwaway line to further dazzle the listener — these days, it’s so difficult to differentiate between mere name-droppers and genuine friends.
Instead of borrowing other people’s fame, what about making a name for yourself? This simplifies the whole thing about being given a good seat in a restaurant, not having to produce an invitation to crash a party, and avoid being frisked before entering a building. Establishing your own bona fides brings a new problem of others now dropping your name, which presents a different sort of challenge.
Anyway, name droppers eventually tire of the exercise when it doesn’t work… or the names they’ve dropped are already passé.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.