Inside the Skin of a Dog, Outside the Hide of a Tiger

There is a fantastic samurai maxim from the Hagakure:

A samurai will use a toothpick even though he has not eaten. Inside the skin of a dog, outside the hide of a tiger.

This applies as well to startups as it does to personal development.  There’s a lot of sacrifices needed when bootstrapping, and then you need to put on a confident face as you try to sell a half-implemented idea or pitch to investors. You might be as hungry as a mangy dog, but outside you need to project the appearance of a tiger.


Confidence goes a long way. All the raw talent in the world isn’t going to carry you very far if you’re so humble or shy and it comes across as uncertainty. A lot of technical people consider Marketing ‘evil’, yet a little dab of it applied to their own careers might do them the world of good. You need to push your ideas past your immediate circle and it’s not going to happen by itself. The Million-Dollar homepage didn’t just ‘go viral’, Alex Tew relentlessly pestered everyone he came into contact with to spread the word.

The Flipside of the Coin

There are two cases which are contraindicated. Firstly, from the lips of Lady MacBeth:

Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under ‘t.

Nobody likes a manipulator. Confidence is one thing, but duplicity is a totally different story. It might work in the short-term, but over the long game integrity wins. Mark Suster touches upon a similar subject in his latest article on ‘Grin F***ing‘.

The Smartest Person in the Room Syndrome

This is something I’ve definitely been guilty of in the past (but hopefully not recently). As generalizations go geeks tend to be smart, and are paid to critically analyze things. This well-written blog post has a good explanation of why this isn’t usually a bad thing, but the ‘Smartest Person in the Room Syndrome’ is that critical analysis applied in less acceptable ways.

The smartest person in the room has to be correct in everything that they say, and usually for that to happen everyone else needs to be wrong. This can be from as simple a level of ‘rightness’ as shoe-horning an unnecessary degree of detail into a conversation,  blatantly contradicting someone who’s either making a joke or speaking hypothetically, right through to loudly shouting down any contradictory opinions. It could be some sort of insecurity that needs  constantly validation through one-upmanship, or just a lack of awareness of how it comes across.  Be confident, but don’t be that guy.

2 thoughts on “Inside the Skin of a Dog, Outside the Hide of a Tiger

  1. I like the “Smartest Person in the Room” section, it’s a good analysis.

    True story: We were driving back from a sales call and the CTO said “I don’t understand. We won the argument. Why didn’t we win the sale?” He was very disappointed at the prospect team’s stupidity and stubbornness.

    I think your are spot on about the zero sum game aspect: I think that is the key piece of the pathology (and why it’s so corrosive to a win-win or collaboration model). I blogged about an aspect of it at

  2. Good blog there Dave. I’ve worked with someone that suffered from “The Smartest Person in the Room Syndrome”. He would constantly try to blind people with technical terminology often out of context. When questioned on his designs he would enter defense mode and regularly explode. He always had to right to a level where it bordered bullying territory.

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