Which hat are you wearing today?

Posted by Flux on 

24 July 2013


Recommended reading written by Dion Chang for City Press

The new art of ‘titlement’ is breeding bigger egos.

In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell published his bestselling book Outliers: The Story of Success.

The book explores what makes people successful, from athletes to business giants and even musicians.

Throughout the book, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10 000-hour rule”. His assertion is that the key to success in any field is reliant on working on, or practising, a specific skill or discipline for at least 10 000 hours.

He maintains that greatness requires enormous time – not just genius or intellect – and he uses, among others, the musical talents of The Beatles and Bill Gates’ computer savvy as specific examples to drive his point home.

But this theory seems to have been tossed out the window when you look at the young guns in South Africa who are starting their own businesses.

We are already on our way to becoming the largest welfare state in the world, with a dependency ratio of one taxpayer to three welfare dependants. That’s simply unsustainable.

In terms of job creation, the current thinking is not to try to find 5 million jobs, but rather to support 1 million small businesses.

But some of the “prepackaged” new businesses appearing out of nowhere make me raise an eyebrow.

We live in a world where instant gratification rules, and in South Africa it’s not only instant gratification we have to contend with but an added layer of conspicuous consumption.

Showing off your bling has somehow moved into the business realm.

It’s now not enough to just flash that Breitling watch on your wrist. You also need a fancy business title to support your burgeoning ego.

As a result, I now seem to bump into an extraordinary number of CEOs, managing directors, and chiefs of this and that.

It’s like I’ve stumbled into a C-suite convention, or I’ve just started to move in very influential circles.

C-suite is a term used to describe corporate officers and directors, derived from the use of the letter ‘C’ in most high-level positions.

Sadly, it’s often nothing of the sort.

I call it titlement: not entitlement, just titlement – the new art of awarding yourself a fancy title without any clue of what the job would actually entail, or perhaps, more importantly, none of the messy stuff that would require you to work your way up a ladder and actually earn the right to use the title.

The best one I’ve come across recently is an email from someone who signs off as “Editor in Chief”.

Suitably impressed, I did a bit more investigating into the publication, as I was not familiar with the title.

I soon discovered that the person was editor in chief of his own blog. Surely, to be an editor in chief, you would need a team to manage, perhaps an editor below you as well as a features editor, subeditors, art director and various departmental editors?

Apparently not any more.

Intrigued by this phenomenon, I looked into what recruitment agencies look for when head-hunting for the C-suite and, unsurprisingly, there was a lot in common with Gladwell’s 10 000-hour rule and it can be broken down into three basic pillars:


Most CEOs have an undergraduate degree in a business field such as marketing, accounting, management or finance.

Having a Master of Business Administration degree is the gold standard for advanced degrees. Not all CEOs have degrees though, but what they definitely do have is …


Job-related experience is obviously crucial, either in the form of hands-on knowledge gained from using, selling and making a company’s product or service, or from holding a variety of administrative positions during the course of 10 or more years.

Call me old-fashioned, but just as I prefer a surgeon who aimed for a 100% pass rate, rather than 30%, I too prefer my leaders – business or otherwise – to have notched up a respectable amount of experience.

The same goes for airline pilots.

And finally …

Management skills

They need to have an aptitude to guide and manage the different personality types that are likely to be found in the workplace or on a team.

Titlement, however, just breeds bigger egos. Tacked on to the impressive job title is usually another façade of the “company’s” global reach. In some cases, I’ve seen people sign off emails with a list of their global “bureaus”. Most favoured are the inevitable New York, Paris and London.

I, of course, can’t stop myself, so I have phoned these “offices” in New York, only to discover that the numbers simply don’t exist.

If you’re going to fabricate a lie, at least list a friend or family member who lives there who can answer the call and extend the lie. There are people like me who do check up.

We need entrepreneurs and small businesses, but not those built using smoke and mirrors.

These lofty titles and fabricated businesses are bound to collapse just as quickly as a cheap RDP house built without proper foundations.

By: Dion Chang

About Dion

Image credit: Gallo Images/ Getty Images

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