In praise of inauthenticity

I've always been troubled by the use of the word "authentic" to describe leaders and even whole organizations or cultures.  I've never been quite sure where this unease came from.  

One thing that has always struck me is that when people say they want their leaders to be "authentic" do they really mean it?  It seems to me that when we say this we don't want leaders to be "who they really are", rather we want them to fulfil some idealized role that reflects our wishes, values, aspirations.  We don't want leaders to be true to themselves, we want them to be true to us.

Then I came across this article in the Star about the developer of a new app called Beme.   Beme is an app that automatically and maybe randomly, sends short videos of you to your contacts.  Like Snapchat these videos have a short shelf life.  The idea is that these short, unedited clips express the "real you" in a way that we don't in other social media (think of all those perfect lives published on Facebook) The article makes the point that the author of the app rather carefully curates his own social media image.

So the article poses the question of what is our "authentic" self?  Well to tell the truth it doesn't exist.  I behave differently with my friends to how I do with my colleagues or my children or with a police officer who might stop me for speeding - or when watching partisan ads produced by political parties I don't agree with.

The simple truth is we all play roles all the time.  As the article points out:

"Think about it: you act differently with your mother than you do with your boss, and you follow rules and norms and fashions with which you might not strictly agree. You act nice towards neighbours you hate. You say you’re doing “pretty good” when you feel like crying. It’s the toll you pay, in short, to live in a polite and functional human society."

Now I'm not advocating dishonesty or suggesting we all are living somehow duplicitous lives.  I'm not even suggesting we jettison the idea of "authenticity".  Just recognize that when we ask our leaders to be "authentic" that we might well be asking the impossible.  

Oh and one more thing - I think this approach supports the idea of work life balance.  See it's okay for "life" and "work" to be different roles, to tap into different sides of ourselves.  I'm not the same person when riding my bike as when sitting at my desk.  Never am and never will be.

A short Rant/Rhyme on Digital Distraction

Adapted from comments I've made at a few recent conferences, with some additions:


Some say embrace the digital disruption

I fear it's more like digital corruption


What's happened to my span of attention?

Not to mention my powers of retention ?


Yes it may help us as we work

But why's it so rare to just sit down and talk?


You remember, old school, face to face

The way it used to be for the human race


Look what digital's done to the state of the nation

The U.K. now has a minister of social isolation. 

Because amidst our technology fixation

Real human contact's become an aberration. 

Human plus smartphone is the new mutation 

Turning it off a form of deprivation


So think about the smartphone in your hand

It only cost you about a grand

It's so powerful, so seductive , so light

The screen it flickers - oh so bright

It's how I keep all my memories, connect with friends. 

I'm sure they'll all love me to the end

Who are they all you ask, who?

To tell the truth I don't have a clue

I collect friends like a philatelist stamps

Whoever has the most wins, they're the champ

It connects you to a world of news

But it can also lead you to the blues

Unlimited Data you'll gain but your soul you'll lose

You can turn it off you know, if you choose. 

So wonder - amongst all this networked wealth

What's the toll on your mental health?

Try putting the phone to one side

Take a deep breath. Go play outside. 


Working all hours hell for leather

Ask yourself is this a high speed connection or is it a tether?


We live in a world of infinite connection

Why then do I feel such a lack of direction

Like I'm naked with no protection

Alone craving contact, some genuine affection?

When did I last give or get undivided attention?


So please I beg you, step away from that screen

And reflect on the lesson of Banksy's little scene. 


If you ever find yourself in a situation like this

Forget the email the text, the tweet, the pin, the post you just can’t miss

And focus instead on the one you are about to kiss