Charlatans and Us

Charlatan – a person, falsely claiming to have special knowledge or skill.

“How do we hire amazing engineers fast?” is a question people ask me often.

When someone asks me the question, they usually expect a profound answer, which will cure all their hiring pains. Hiring, especially good people, is a long, involved, and arduous process. There are no deep secrets to this. But, this is not what people want to hear because they already know this. Instead, they expect a magic potion, a hack, which will wipe out all the hiring woes. My standard answer to the hiring question is along the lines of – “I do not have any tricks up my sleeve to help you with that.”

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When someone is expecting a profound answer, and you do not have any, it is very tempting to come up with one. When the other person is seeking enlightenment, and all you have is mundaneness, you feel like an amateur and a buzz kill.

Charlatans start like this. People expect magical answers from them; they do not have any. Still, the expectation from others is so high that they start coming up with one, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Also, once you do this multiple times, you start drinking your own kool-aid. You do not even recognize that you are a charlatan. You genuinely start believing that you are a messiah.

Growth is a catch-22 problem. You need to endure pain to grow. You are not ready to experience pain unless you see the growth. But you do not see growth unless you suffer pain. Charlatans, with their quick and simple hacks, give us hope of disproportionate returns by investing little effort, hence the demand for charlatans.

The rich and the famous are often called charlatans. We hold the rich and the famous accountable for lofty morals and weave stories of their impeccable character. We forget that they are just like us – winging through life, taking shortcuts, not knowing what is happening or where they are heading. When the rich and the famous know of these high expectations, which a lot of them do not have(there is nothing wrong with this), they artificially try to mold themselves on these lines. In today’s age of social media, where virtue signaling is just a click away, it is getting easier to do this. When you fake it, it can only go so far. One day, the cloak falls, and the grandness built on flimsy appearances comes tumbling down. We then start calling these celebrities charlatans, but little we introspect on our role in them turning out to be charlatans.

As much as we like to blame charlatans for their deception, a significant part of the blame rests on us for creating them. It is our unholy expectations and quick reward-seeking nature that gives rise to charlatans.

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