This little tidbit, entitled "Apple's Attention to Detail, has been making rounds around the Internet recently. It describes how the Mac sleeping indicator blinks in a way that emulates human breathing patterns. I am skeptical if it is really a great example of attention to detail. This kind of "subliminal messaging" gets bandied about in design huddles everywhere. "Let's make the background silhouette more curvaceous so it invokes ideas of attractive women!" or "We should make the Purchase button green because green means 'go'!" We've heard it all.
But what is remarkable is the eagerness of Apple fans and product designers to correlate this interesting-yet-unremarkable idea with Apple's design prowess. The company's success is not in doing revolutionary things but rather in getting people to talk about them as if they were. This post isn't supposed to be about technology. But the Apple example above demonstrates a larger point that applies to you and me.
The fact is that most of us are not significantly better than our colleagues and competitors, despite our cognitive bias indicating otherwise. I know that I am certainly not; I have classmates who can score better grades with less effort and hacking buddies who can whip up prototypes faster than I can. But I am generally believed to be smarter and more talented than I really am. The trick is that the people around me do a better job of building my reputation than I ever can. I've had an acquaintance who I barely remembered excitedly introduce me as his most "interesting and genuine friend." I've gotten to work on some interesting projects because my friend made sure my reputation preceded me.
The secret to success is to get people to talk about you, whether "you" are a billion-dollar corporation or a sophomore in college. How do you ensure this? I doubt I could enumerate the steps myself but Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People suggests that simply being receptive and interested in others does wonders to their impression of you.