When Authenticity Becomes The Norm
‘Do Authentic’ Vs ‘Be Authentic’
You are probably familiar with the idea of race to the bottom, when everyone is selling on price and not added value.
We all believe (probably) it’s a bad and destructive strategy, but lately I’ve been wondering if we are now also seeing the opposite — a race to the top?
Maybe it’s just me, but ‘authentic’ almost feels like a magic-ball-type weapon that wins customers in quantities. Whoever’s better at it gets the girl so, naturally, brands have started competing at who’s going to ‘do authentic’ better.
And I’m not so sure that strategy is a much smarter choice for a small entrepreneur than racing to the bottom.
A typing pool typist (Google it, kids) once told me: “If everything is bold, then nothing is bold”
In my mind, the very act of trying to be authentic is — inauthentic. There’s an inherent conflict to it and I have to admit, I’m having trouble to wrap my head around it.
But from a business perspective it’s interesting to take a look at how this ‘authenticity at scale’ is being produced.
The relationships, engagement, experience of community… I’m now starting to see people trying to replicate and outsource this, to offload it to someone else, to automate the process. And there are more and more offers to satisfy that need. I recently saw an ad offering “365 days of social media content calendar”. Seriously, how can you be authentic and tell a real story, a year in advance?
And yet, it’s considered smart scaling, even though all it does is encourage generic ‘it’s nearly Easter so let’s talk about eggs’ nonsense that adds value to no one.
It feels like everyone has started using the same playbook on ‘how to become a thought leader’ so today, you get to compete on who will create more engaging communities, or who will provide more exceptional content.
It just creates noise. Which then begs the question:
In a world where most everyone is a thought leader, how do you compete with this massive production and promotion, all while doing your best work and growing your company according to your own rules?
Everything stems from the Why, but it’s not a solution in and of itself
One aspect of doing business in an authentic way is constantly checking whether what you’re doing is aligned with your values and your purpose.
For example, if I said that our core values are about collaboration, then everything we do has sharing and collaboration in it in some way. It’s in the very foundation of our business, in the very decision point. When I’m looking at a new project, I’m thinking whether it has a collaborative aspect. If not, then it’s probably not for me (even if I could do it).
Personal and Institutional ‘Why’
I often talk to people who tell me something along the lines of: “We’re not doing this for the money, we love what we do; we’ll talk about pricing later; all I really want is to help other businesses…”.
I know there’s some truth in there, but I also know they aren’t funded by someone else. They’re not a charity, so they are doing it for the money as well.
That’s why sometimes I have to remind people that there are two versions of your Why: a personal one, and an institutional/business one (some people call them your Selfish and your Altruistic Why).
As for me, my business Why has to do with the reason I came out of corporate consulting — I wanted to create something that was more accessible, less stuffy, and I wanted to work with people who really wanted to change their business rather than just going through the motions. My personal Why is simply, I want a better quality of life, to enjoy what I’m doing, and to do something that I feel makes a difference with people I respect.
Personal Why and business Why usually go together well, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that you’re not doing it just for altruism, you are doing it because it gives you something as well.
Now, having a clearly defined purpose and values isn’t a silver bullet such that once you nail it, everything will be perfect. It is important, but it’s like a blueprint for a house: you can’t build a house without it (not if you want it to last and to be functional anyway), but it’s not all that’s needed, there are other ingredients at play too.
Cascading your values across your business
Whether you’re about to hire your first employee or you’re in the process of expanding your existing team, you need to set up a good onboarding process so that when a new writer, assistant, or expert of any kind joins in, you are able to tell them: “This is what you do, and this is how we do things around here.”
Some people are uncomfortable doing that because they feel like they’re telling the expert how to do their job, but it’s not about that at all. It’s simply communicating that there’s certain culture, a certain set of values and direction that everyone on the ship needs to adhere to in order for the ship to keep moving forward.
And after that, you also have to come up with ways to stay on top of it. Company culture isn’t something that’s done once and forgotten about, it has to be measured and revisited, especially as it’s not an obvious process. It can easily drift away over time, so you need to have a way to constantly check the alignment.
It’s not the easiest thing in the world, to establish and maintain a strong company culture, but whether it’s a big or small business, the outcome is the same: if you let it drift away, you lose your focus, you lose your way, and your business fails without you even seeing it coming.
Knowing what you are and being what you are as a business is, in my mind, what ‘authentic’ really means. And I also believe that, in the long run, that’s what wins the customers (and not cranking out tons of useless content, or whatever the new ‘thought leadership’ playbooks tell us to do).
Because, once you connect with the people who resonate with your purpose, you have them for life. And when your engines are all set, it might be just a small island in this noisy ocean, but you’ll know it’s your island, and it’s not going anywhere.