February 10, 2015

What Bylines, Intros, and Bios Can Teach

By: Isaac Morehouse

When someone is introduced for a speech, what’s usually shared about them?  What about the byline at the end of an article, or the bio on a website?

What I normally see is what the person has created and what they’re working on.  It’s true, sometimes in a longer bio degrees and certifications are mentioned, but these are not the focal point.  If they are, it often means the speaker or writer is very green and hasn’t much else to demonstrate credibility or knowledge on the subject, or to pique interest and intrigue.  Compare, “John Smith raises two kids on a farm and is the author of X”, with, “John Smith has a degree from Y”, or, “Sally Jones mastered three languages and two marital arts”, with, “Sally Jones graduated with honors”.

Many people remove educational attainment from their bios, bylines, and intros altogether once they’ve reached a certain level of mastery and credibility for the things they’ve created.  But why wait?

GI-introductionDegrees and certifications are generic.  Lots of people have them.  If an event advertised, “Come meet Jim Cunningham, 1994 graduate with a major in Biology” would you go out of your way to attend?  Early in life a lot of people lean on visible, generic credentials as a way to signal their value and credibility.  This is all well and good until these signals subtly become a kind of crutch, and allow us to think we’ve got something worthwhile just because we have titles.  In reality, you can be and do things more interesting than any generic title – right now!

Why not do some really cool stuff so that you have something more unique and interesting about you today, not ten years down the road?  Ask what your byline would be if you weren’t allowed to list the city you live in or the education you have.  Would it make people want to hear what you have to say?

Degrees and certifications are signals, but they’re weak, often bland signals.  If they’re the most valuable ones you’ve got, start immediately doing and creating things that will send much stronger signals, tailored to you.

Isaac Morehouse is president of Praxis.