In a recent consideration of the writer Henry James, the ever-engaging Adam Gopnik begins by mentioning the invention of “Lifemanship.” Gopnik name-drops Stephen Potter, English critic and inventor of Lifemanship, the way other people bring up Chipotle or Mad Max. Like these Lifemanship is necessary, irresistible and possibly dangerous. Lifemanship, like gamesmanship — another Potter invention — is a sarcastic, knowing version of Dale Carnegie’s more earnest getting-ahead strategies. Lifemanship remains wildly in favor today if you go by a random selection of aspirational one-upmanship posts posing as earnest transparency on Medium. (Potter also wrote a book on upmanship: The Complete Upmanship.)
Potter, a Merton College at Oxford kind of fellow who died the year Abbey Road came out, saw US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles employ “brinkmanship” as his foreign policy — doubtless borrowing from Potter’s coinages. Besides books on upmanship and gamesmanship, Potter wrote an entire book on Lifemanship, its subtitle alone as alluring as 21st century venture capital: Lifemanship: Or, the Art of Getting Away with It Without Being an Absolute Plonk. He would recognize today’s pack of LinkedIn influencers as old acquaintances.