People tend to closely emulate individuals of high-status but the counter signaling they pick up on doesn’t work unless you are already high-status. For example, being an asshole to others because Steve Jobs was famously demanding and extremely blunt doesn’t work unless you are also a widely accepted product visionary, or spending many hours a day reading because that’s what Warren Buffet does won’t work unless you have decades of value investing experience.
These high-status individuals can afford to counter signal but this can be very risky for others. For example, being an asshole to VCs would be an extremely risky thing to do if you’re not already a successful entrepreneur (even if you could get away with it, I don’t recommend it).
Read Be Wary of Imitating High-Status People Who Can Afford to Countersignal.
- At the same time, you can’t be normal and expect abnormal returns
- High-status people benefit from four kinds of luck while, earlier in your career, it’s best to focus on building skills and working hard to increase the chances of good things happening
- Value signaling is a strange variation of this issue where it might be risky to signal and it might be risky not to signal
Links to this note
Alpha Males Only Exist in Captivity
The theory popularized by the book The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, published in 1970, has long since been debunked. Turns out, the observation that there was a strict pecking order to the pack that governed all behavior was because the researchers were working with wolves in captivity. Essentially, the alpha male things doesn’t happen in the wild and it’s like observing prison rules for wolves.
Celebrity Endorsements Are Power Plays
Celebrity endorsements are not just getting someone well known to tell you about a thing so you trust it. They’re also a power play—this company is so important they can make high-profile celebrities say what they want. It establishes credibility in an odd second-order way.
Disagreeable People Do Not Have an Advantage
A 14 year longitudinal study found that being disagreeable—aggressive, selfish, manipulative, and so on—does not have a positive relationship with obtaining power at work. Researchers found “dominant aggressive behavior”, which is a predictor of power, was offset by engaging in less communal and generous behavior, canceled each other out.