“instead of having one hundred percent of the people finding your mission acceptable or mildly commendable, you are better off having a high percentage of people disliking you and your message (even intensely), combined with a low percentage of extremely loyal and enthusiastic supporters.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile (2012)
In The Prince (1532), Machiavelli famously maintains that it’s better to be feared than loved. I’m pretty sure my wise old mentor had this in mind when he told me, the night before my first job talk: “Remember, John, don’t make waves! When it comes to hiring committees, it’s better to be liked than loved.” Of course I ignored my mentor’s advice. Because I’m dumb. Because being careful and cautious has never come naturally to me. Regardless, I paid for my arrogance: took me quite a while to find a job. But I did, eventually, and I’ve since sat on numerous hiring committees—and seen the truth of my mentor’s words on countless occasions. Nobody on the hiring committee gets their first choice. Not even their second choice. The person who gets the job is, more often than not, the one who was everyone’s third, forth, or fifth choice: the person who everyone liked but nobody loved.
The same is not true in other domains—such as politics, religion, literature, activism, and moral reform—wherein zealous minorities have proven far more effective than tepid majorities. In these domains, it’s better to be loved than liked. The political impotence of the environmental movement is a case in point. Despite widespread support, it has been remarkably ineffective in North America, in part, because the people who care about the environment invariably care about something else more—such as racism, feminism, abortion, free speech, pornography, terrorism, religion, or Wall Street. Environmentalism is everyone’s third, forth, or fifth choice. It’s the cause that everyone likes but nobody loves.
To be liked, you have to be a Big Mac. To be loved, you have to be a souvlaki pita from Alto’s on Avenue du Parc—a messy souvlaki pita, with extra tsatziki, diced garlic, and hot sauce. Environmentalists have spent the last two decades trying to be Big Macs. They need to start acting like really good souvlaki.
If you strive to be liked by all you’re sure to be loved by none.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)