Seven Marketing Career Killers and How to Avoid Them
Believing in bogus platitudes, falling into cognitive bias, clustering into cliques and four other things that could stop your marketing career in its tracks
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” Italian philosopher George Santayana famously said. In the workplace, the saying may as well be, “Those who cannot learn from the errors of others are doomed to make the same mistakes.”
Author Becki Saltzman wrote about seven career killers in her recent book, Living Curiously: How to Use Curiosity to Be Remarkable and Do Good Stuff. Each is very common and likely noticeable by anyone who has worked in an office setting, and each can stop a high-potential career in its tracks.
To combat these career killers, Saltzman suggests bringing curiosity to work every day.
“Bringing a dose of curiosity to your expectations, you can remain curious prior to being judgmental, fearful, complacent or critical,” she says.
Here are Saltzman’s seven career killers and how marketers can reverse course on them.
1. Believing in bogus platitudes
Statements such as “Let’s not reinvent the wheel” and “The customer is always right” are clichés and beliefs that can end up being major roadblocks to career advancement.
“Platitudes can be a trap in marketing,” Saltzman says, adding that most of these platitudes, such as “Quitting is the easiest thing to do,” don’t ring true in many situations.
“Tell that to me with a pitcher of margaritas and a bowl of chips in front of me,” she says with a laugh.
Instead of believing in these cliché maxims, Saltzman suggests testing assumptions by looking at these sayings with curiosity and skepticism. Test and explore how they can relate to aspects of work, such as the review and promotion process, evaluation of leaders and hiring or firing of employees.
Saltzman gave an example of how dangerous it can be to adhere too strictly to platitudes. She was working as a sales manager at a retail shop when a customer tried to return a vile of perfume; the vile was filled with urine.
“My employee was like, ‘What do I do? The customer is always right.’ But that’s the time where you may have to elevate curiosity a little bit to see if that actually matches reality and if ‘The customer is always right’ is going to fit with the review process,” she says.
2. Clustering into cliques
Becoming cliquish at work can provide a sense of belonging and security, but it can also mean putting a cap on your potential at work by branding yourself as a group instead of an individual.
Instead of forming a friend group, a la high school, Saltzman suggests expanding work networks to be broader. Knowing more people will provide more opportunity to jump into leadership roles, she says.
3. Trying too hard to be interesting
Most people want their effort to be recognized, but perceived effort can be a dangerous thing. Often, those who try too hard can come off as self-centered or desperate to coworkers and executives.
Instead of trying too hard to be interesting, Saltzman says employees should become more curious at work and focus on being interested in what they’re doing. This, in turn, will make others more curious about who they are and what they do.
“My gig is curiosity,” she says. “I think most people get trapped into [these career killers] because they think they show up to work on time, they do a good job, they get their work done, they don’t make excuses, they don’t fall into the trap of these career killers. But they’re not curious enough to see beneath the curtain.”
Become curious about work by asking questions of coworkers about what they like about their job and what policies they would put into action. Figure out something unique about a coworker or uncommon commonalities between you.
4. Gravitating toward groupthink
Getting caught up in groupthink may be one of the more difficult traps to avoid; it’s tough to be a single dissenting voice among a group of people saying, “Yes.”
Saltzman says that she often asks clients whether they’d rather be wrong in a crowd or right by themselves, and concedes that the answer isn’t always clear.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of picking your battles,” she says. “Sometimes you can’t be the contrarian that’s always poking. By the same token, sometimes you can’t be the silent one. But [you must] always be taking the pulse of the crowd [and figure out if it’s a battle worth fighting]. The stakes may be high, but you’re probably not ever going to differentiate yourself as a leader if that’s something you won’t do.”
Engaging in new ways of thinking and suggesting other coworkers do the same thing can go a long way toward eliminating groupthink in a work environment, Saltzman says.
“Just falling into anti- or pro-groupthink is dangerous. I’d suggest too much groupthink has a much greater downside than too little.”
Avoiding groupthink certainly does not mean avoiding working with others. Dana Glasgo, a career coach based in Cincinatti, says employees may want to find a good mentor internally to help them grow within the company.
“Networking is the key [to becoming a top employee],” she says.
5. Becoming too familiar with coworkers or bosses
Not knowing your coworkers and bosses well enough certainly isn’t good, but Saltzman says becoming too familiar can be even more of a career killer. Sharing too much or “knowing too much,” thereby becoming less curious, can lead to stagnation at work, she says.
Instead, she suggests finding the right balance between knowing and sharing. Be familiar with people, but not so familiar that things get dramatic or you become incurious about coworkers or work itself.
Becoming too familiar may also breed gossip, especially when in concert with cliques. Glasgo says employees need to have a positive attitude at work.
“You’re there to do a job, and that’s what they’re paying you to do,” she says. “Keeping that attitude right is important.”
6. Mental sand traps
“Mental sand traps,” or cognitive biases and mental shortcuts, are the most dangerous of the seven career killers, Saltzman says. Confirmation bias, for one, may cause someone to always believe they’re correct, even if they are not.
“That kind of belief system allows us to think that we’re doing the right thing and we miss cues in all of these career killers that might be illuminated if we weren’t caught in these mental sand traps,” she says. “From a practical, tactical standpoint, the first thing [to counteract this] is becoming really comfortable with being wrong. In the workplace, that’s hard. We’re not awarded for making mistakes and being wrong.”
Saltzman says people should practice being wrong outside of work when the stakes are not as high. This can be as simple as testing assumptions outside of work or taking up a new hobby.
“You realize [being wrong] doesn’t kill you,” she says. “Maybe you call it the beginner’s mindset or the mindset of not being an expert. You start seeing how that mindset is OK to bring to an area where you may need to be perceived as more of an expert, such as the workplace.”
7. Behavior bombs
No one likes being around someone who flies off the handle, easily gets angry or holds passive aggressive grudges. Saltzman says these are “behavior bombs,” something that may cause people to erupt when confronted with others’ selfish behavior, not being listened to or a perceived lack of fairness, among other issues.
To confront this issue, Saltzman says a simple solution is to figure out “what pisses you off,” your behavior bomb, so that you can recognize when it pops up among coworkers or bosses.
“Before you figure out your behavior bombs, figuring out what are the behavior bomb triggers and why [they happen], be really curious about it: Why do you think that’s an appropriate way to be?” she says. “Once you’ve identified that and you get really curious, you almost get so analytical that you don’t react to it thoughtlessly. You can chuckle at catching yourself before these trigger behavior bombs [take hold] because you can see nuance in things you thought were so absolute.”
Saltzman suggests elevating curiosity over criticism, judgment, fear and complacency as an ordering mechanism. This, she believes, can help stave off most of these career killers.