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Andrew Martini

PRL 497

Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset or Most Expensive Liability

In Egonomics, David Marcum and Steven Smith set out to discover how ego fits into a

business setting and how it can be harnessed to work towards the betterment of a manager and a

company. Knowing that ego often comes with a negative connotationin a study of over

2,000 business-related news articles, Marcum and Smith found the word ego to be used

negatively 88% of the timethe authors first redefine ego to make it a first priority for

businesses. Marcum and Smith then identify the four early warning signs of an unchecked ego in

a business setting, as well as the three principles of harnessing that same power for a better work


In order to redefine ego, Marcum and Smith turned to the etymological roots of the word:

coming from the Latin I, myself. At its root, this word does not have any sort of connotation,

positive or negative. This reveals the duality in the concept of ego. In their initial findings,

Marcum and Smith writes, It appeared there was an irony about ego: it is both a valuable asset,

and a deep liability. The authors also refer to ego as a free radical, a term used in the medical

profession to define the molecules the immune system creates to fight bacteria. However, when

exposed to factors like pollution, free radicals overproduce and begin to attack good cells and

tissue vital to the body. Ego is just like a free radicalinherently positive but when unregulated

it attacks our talents and abilities. In a business setting, managers stand to lose a great deal when

they lose control of their egos, such as trust, respect, relationships, influence, talent, careers,

clients, and market share (Marcum & Smith 15). Marcum and Smith posit that business includes

a human aspect and the ego, an undeniably human trait, affects this at every turn.
According to Marcum and Smith, the four early warning signs of an unchecked ego are:

being too comparative, being defensive, showcasing brilliance and seeking acceptance. While

comparison and competition, two concepts that often appear together, are healthy and important

to any industry, it is easy for comparison to lead to an obsession. Ultimately, this diminishes a

businesss competitive stance. Fixating on a competitor only works to weaken a companys

potential in the name of becoming better than someone else (Marcum & Smith 36). The next

warning sign, being defensive, represents an inability to separate our ideas from our personal

character or values. When too defensive of an idea, it is because we feel as if we have to defend

who we are as a person, rather than having the ability to separate our ego from our work.

Showcasing brilliance is just what it sounds like: making [our brilliance] the center of attention

(Marcum & Smith 36). However, the more attention we demand, the less people are willing to

listen. The last warning sign, seeking acceptance, leads to the destructive need for constant

validation, rather than creating a space as a leader to generate necessary conflict.

Finally, Marcum and Smith present the three principles of egonomics to demonstrate how

we can use ego in our favor. These three principles are humility, curiosity and veracity.

Humility, as described in this book, is a complicated concept. It is described as the equilibrium

between having too little ego and having too much. Humility comes with three properties:

devotion to progress (we, then me), duality (Im brilliant, Im not), constructive discontent

(one more thing). Only at equilibrium can these three properties be achieved, leading to

making us modest by reminding us how far we have come and how far shot we are of what we

can be (Marcum & Smith 135). In this context, curiosity refers to our desire to explore the ideas

of those we work with to create a more cohesive and comprehensive solution to a problem or

goal. Curiosity requires equal parts of order and openness. Marcum and Smith posit that a
curious manager seeks the ideas of others and creates processes in which conversations can be

generated that drive valuable conversations. In order to create these conversations, Marcum and

Smith provide these questions to spark curiosity: What do we mean? What are we seeing? What

are we assuming? What does that lead to?

The final principle, veracity, is defined as, In business, veracity is the pursuit of

realitythe difference between what we think is happening, and whats actually happening.

Pursuit must be relentless because whats true in business or science today will change

(Marcum & Smith 227). While the truth is not often what a manager wants to hear, it is

important that he/she is committed to pursuing the truth in order to keep the best interest of the

business in mind. Marcum and Smith keep in mind the difference between managers and those

being managed. They challenge managers to foster an environment in which their employees are

comfortable speaking the truth, while giving the employees the tools to speak the truth to those

managing them, which is often a daunting task.

The several of the lessons this book provides regarding ego in the work place were

valuable to me. As a manager, you are either receiving credit for the positive things you have set

in motion at the company or you are listening to the criticism from those above you and below

you. Both of these messages can work to damage your ego by overinflating it or destroying it

completely. Managers are leaders and having a clear dissection of where ego belongs in a

business provided me a deeper understanding of my behavior in leadership settings.

By providing clear warning signs of an unchecked ego, Marcum and Smith help their

readers recognize the problems in themselves. The warning signs are specific and addressed in a

way that is easy to understand and supported by details that are applicable to situations in a

workplace setting. Furthermore, Marcum and Smith also give solutions to reigning in the ego in
the workplace. Their concepts are fully realized, making the messages they want to convey clear

and valuable to me. I was able to apply the details and examples in the book to my experience as

a leader in student organizations and in my internships.

I was surprised at how well the authors were able to change the rhetoric regarding ego as

a negative force. It wasnt surprising that people typically thought of it as negative, but I was

interested to see what the authors had to say about making ego a positive force in the work place

and beyond. By establishing ego as something to be regulated and harnessed, Marcum and Smith

take ego from something existential to something tangible. People are more willing to work

toward bettering themselves when they have concrete goals and steps toward reaching those

concrete goals. Marcum and Smith position ego as a skill necessary for all leaders, as well as

showing the readers easy steps to acquire this honed skill.

The book was organized well, with clearly defined chapters that spent an ample amount

of time on each aspect of Marcum and Smiths theory of egonomics, without being too preachy

or data-heavy. The authors provided anecdotes, as well, that kept the writing interesting and

relevant to everyday situations. Throughout the book, the tone was light and it didnt rely

completely on data. This prevented the important elements of the book from being bogged down

by confusing numbers and specific jargon. The parts that did contain these things, however, were

clearly broken down for the reader in order to provide understanding.

I would suggest other PRL 497 students to read this book in their spare time. It is often

hard to see when we are letting our ego affect us, especially in situations when we think we are

being professional. The sections regarding the early warning signs of an unchecked ego were

enlightening to me because some of the behavior Marcum and Smith described was behavior I

did not think was necessarily damaging or ineffective. Additionally, the behavior they described
was behavior I was able to recognize in students I have worked with, both as peers or as their

subordinate. Especially at this young age, egos run rampant. It would be beneficial for PRL

students to read this because it would prepare them for when they are in a professional setting. It

would ensure that they will not let their ego get in the way of fostering a productive environment,

both as a manager and as an employee.


Marcum, D., & Smith, S. (2007). Egonomics: What makes ego our greatest asset (or most
expensive liability). New York: Simon & Schuster.