I’ve stolen this rule from Stephen Bayley, who I interviewed at tompeters.com about his book Life’s a Pitch, which he co-authored with Roger Mavity. Stephen’s half of the book has chapter titles such as “Seduction, or, how to get to yes”; “Lunch: theory and practice”; “How to be, er, confident”; and “Visual language, or, what does my tattoo say about me?” It is in this Visual language chapter that Bayley writes: “Those with an inclination to brag or exaggerate should know that Frederick the Great’s advice to his troops was: ‘Be more than you seem.'”
My feeling is that this notion goes beyond just not bragging about yourself. I really think it’s an important concept, but not clearly understood. It’s about being understated in looks and demeanor. Don’t let people know everything about you. Hold some stuff in reserve. It’s not about being secretive, it’s just about holding something back. There’s some power in keeping some stuff inside. I think of (guys, mostly) telling stories about some adventure and each guy is trying to one-up the guy before him. This is general man banter and sometimes interesting but mostly not. When you find yourself in this situation, try not telling your story, the one that outdoes all the others. (It’s hard.) It’s a good thing to do once in a while. Just hold back. The only who knows is you. And so you don’t have a topping story for that round. So what?