Until recently casinos were illegal in almost every state because it was considered unfair to run an institution that parted people with their money so easily. But when Donald Trump launched one of his own he somehow managed to run it into the ground. Yet in his campaign for president one of his biggest selling points was that he was a business genius.
The perception Trump has managed to create around himself is vastly at odds with the cold realities of his track record. After a few early high-profile real estate wins that were largely funded by his family fortune, Trump’s business flops significantly outnumbered his successes. Trump Steak. Trump Airlines. Trump Vodka. Trump Mortgage. Trump Magazine. Trump University. All were debacles—characterized by disappointed customers, stiffed vendors, and confusion on the part of virtually everyone involved.
But somehow Trump has used each of his bombs to propel himself another step up the ladder. He has done so by inverting what most of us have learned to accept about what it takes to achieve success.
The majority of businesspeople go out of their way to create great products, provide amazing service, and treat customers well. They do this based on the idea that each job well done will provide the foundation upon which to build our next win. When we do miss the mark, most of us work to repair the damage, make things right, and learn from the experience so that we can create something more valuable and enduring the next time.
Donald Trump is the exact opposite. He disregards the experience of his customers, partners, and vendors in the face of any data that might be telling him his latest venture is plummeting. However, he is able to operate this way and still come out on top because he’s mastered one key skill that compensates for his many shortcomings.
An Uncommon Skill That More People Should Learn
Donald Trump is one of the world’s foremost practitioners of hype.
Hype is all about using any means necessary to generate an intense emotional reaction from a large number of people to get a specific outcome. Regardless of your politics, there is no denying that Donald Trump has uncommon ability in this area.
Take The Apprentice. The not-quite-reality TV show he hosted on NBC was his only real commercial success of the last quarter-century. On it, Trump played the role of the preeminent business mogul of his era. Aspiring entrepreneurs and celebrities clamored to impress the master so that he would deign to keep them in his inner circle instead of expelling them in disgrace with his trademark phrase, “You’re fired!”
It is no accident that Trump’s successful bid for the presidency came close on the heels of his television triumph. He was savvy enough to realize that if he could project a public image of himself as for the embodiment of achievement, the public would come to see him as such.
And that’s exactly what happened. When he ran for president, Donald Trump made the case that he would run the country like the uber-successful CEO that he was. His voters never bothered to investigate his claims. In their minds, they didn’t need to. His publicly crafted image told them all they needed to know.
So how can you take advantage of this dynamic to advance your own career?
Construct an Image of Your Future Self
While you may not have a show on NBC, you can still use this Trumpian tactic.
Take out a sheet of paper and write down a description of your future self—the most successful and accomplished version you can imagine. Memorize it. Then commit to playing this role whenever you interact with your public. In every article you write, interview you do, speech you give, or phone call you make, act like your newly imagined identity.
Many people feel lost in an unpredictable world and are looking for a leader to give them a clear-cut path forward. By projecting the idolized version of yourself, people will follow you. And money follows those with followers. Before long, you’ll become in reality the vision you’ve been presenting to the world.
Pick Fights and Make Enemies
Here is an abbreviated list of the people and institutions that Trump has picked fights with since he became president: Mexicans, Muslims, Rosie O’Donnell, the continent of Africa, CNN, Megyn Kelly, NFL players, Omasosa Manigault, James Comey, Robert Muller, Katy Tur, the cast of Hamilton, the Canadian Prime Minister, Harley Davidson, and NATO.
Somehow the more the feuds he starts, the more his followers adore him. Quite simply, our current president has an intuitive understanding of human nature.
The way human beings form attachments is through a neurotransmitter called oxytocin. When your brain secretes oxytocin in the presence of someone you have a relationship with, you experience a feeling of closeness, warmth, and commitment to that person.
However, oxytocin has another, lesser-known function as well. The same brain chemical that cements bonding with people inside your circle also causes you to experience feelings of hostility toward those outside of your tribe. In other words, on a purely physical level, fomenting an us-versus-them dynamic creates stronger and stronger bonds between the leaders who spark divisions and those that follow them.
Does this mean that you need to continually insult and attack those who differ from you? Not necessarily. But it does mean you need to draw clear lines in the sand between yourself and others. Fortunately, picking a fight does not always have to revolve around another person or set of people. You can pick a fight with an idea as well.
Ask yourself the following two questions: “What point of view do you often encounter in your field that is so wrongheaded that it literally makes you angry?” and “What point of view in your field are you one-hundred-percent, unshakably confident in?” Get clear on your answers to these questions. Spend as long as you need to figure it out. Write your answers down on note cards and tape them above your workspace.
Once you figure out the answers to these questions, they can serve as the nexus around which you build your tribe. Find people who differ from your point of view and challenge them on social media. Write articles disagreeing with commonly held orthodoxies in your industry. Pick fights with the gurus and thought leaders in your realm that have been around so long that no one thinks to challenge them anymore.
If you carve out a contrarian and challenging point of view, you will cause those who have tendencies to see the world your way to rally around you and evangelize your ideas, even if others vehemently disagree with you.
By using these tactics, Trump built an empire on third-rate products and broken promises. Imagine what you could do if you use them in service of something great.