Substance, Style, and Ayn Rand

Posted on January 22, 2015 by Bob Burg


Having watched the DVD version of the three Atlas Shrugged movies, I think of how effective communication is such an important aspect of selling. Selling, in this case, not just a product or service, but a philosophy.

The film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s famed magnum opus (apologies to those who consider that to be The Fountainhead) is an inspiration to her many fans. The problem is that most people are not her fans. And to them, it matters not how brilliant she was or how accurate her predictions turned out to be.

Rand was concerned with our society’s growing reliance on government and the general disdain for the producers and creators of wealth. She was also concerned with the growing acceptance of more taxation and government control — by both major parties.

But that’s not what this post is about. Nor is it about the fact that I greatly admire Ayn Rand’s work.

She was a Russian immigrant who experienced firsthand the evils of communism and socialism (which she referred to as collectivism). She loved America, espoused capitalism, and spoke out against her adopted country’s ongoing march toward bigger and more intrusive government.

Rand saw that, increasingly, the work of the producers was being confiscated by those she referred to as the thugs and looters (politicians, bureaucrats, etc.), with the producers being seen by many people as villains.

In Atlas Shrugged, she considered what would happen if the producers simply went on strike. In other words, what if Atlas – the mythical Greek titan who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders — simply decided to shrug … to let it go … to stop supporting the world through his efforts? Would the rest of society, especially the aforementioned thugs and looters, realize that punishing the producers was not in their best interests?

Much of what Rand wrote about in her 1200-page novel has come to pass … though certainly not the “strike.” Perhaps, in fact, the very opposite. More and more of the major producers (big corporations) have been hopping on the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” bandwagon, buying special rules and regulations from politicians. In doing so, these “cronyists” have become a big part of the problem, using the force the government to give themselves an unfair advantage over those who compete legitimately by providing value to the marketplace.

This has left the small entrepreneur — overtaxed, overregulated, and with the added burden of increased bureaucratic paperwork — to carry the weight of bloated and out-of-control federal spending. It has also hurt middle class folks who work hard to support their families while watching more and more money being extracted from their paychecks.

But, as I mentioned earlier, that’s not what this post is about.

What is it about? It’s about effective communication versus ineffective communication.  It’s about a great idea not being presented in a persuasive way. It’s about a brilliant woman who, while she touched the hearts and minds of many with a philosophy that perhaps could have saved this country from the mess it is in today, turned off many more. And because of that, her message never enjoyed the broad appeal it deserved.

Of the many who embraced Ayn Rand’s philosophy, the majority were already in the free-market camp. They simply needed to have it expressed in a way they could relate to, and Atlas did that magnificently.

Others who might not have been predisposed to agree with her but who approached her ideas with an open mind found that she provided answers they had not previously considered. She clicked with them, as well.

The majority, however — those who really needed her message — were never exposed to it. Why? Because she insulted and alienated them. Instead of making them want to read her books and listen to her ideas, she pushed them away with her putdowns and dismissiveness.

So can you apply this lesson to your efforts to sell your ideas or products?

As we’ve learned by observing Ayn Rand, it’s not enough merely to have good ideas. You have to be able to communicate them effectively. You have to be able to persuade people to buy into them, especially if your ideas are different from those they’ve long held and with which they can emotionally identify. And you can’t persuade anyone to do anything if they don’t like and trust you.

In other words, you must not only have substance (good ideas), you also need style (good people skills). The more you study Ayn Rand, the more you see that her ideas regarding free markets are right on the mark. But most people never get past the fact that it’s Ayn Rand, a person with a ton of substance who could have used a lot more style.

Bob Burg

Bob Burg speaks at corporate conferences and entrepreneurial events. His books (which include Endless Referrals and The Go-Giver) have altogether sold more than a million copies. His newest book is Adversaries Into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion. To read Chapter One, visit While there, check out his Go-Givers International Membership Community.