Be real in business and life

It is really easy to be unreal. All we have to do is project something we think we should be or others think we should be but which is not who we are or who our business is. I am going to speak in platitudes here because they help drive the point home so easily. It was Oscar Wilde who said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

He was talking about art but he may as well have been talking about business or the digital space where we each look to emulate each other. I understand that the hope behind such action is that we establish what we really want: resonance with our audience and achieve what we hope to achieve: acceptability.

If we have those two we then have the means through which we can establish trust, which at its most basic is simply a means through which we can predict the behavior of people (and business) we have never encountered before because we understand their motivation.

With trust we can then enter into relational exchanges with others which means that we can then truly think about doing business, establishing personal professional networks and sharing information with the expectation that it will be accepted.

The thing is that when we all engage in a game of copying each other we can, very quickly, establish norms that allow all of the above to take place but those norms are only skin-deep. Because they are not backed by our full conviction and because they are not powered by our values they fail to withstand any kind of stress.

So, when you get a global stressor like this current pandemic the norms fall by the wayside because each of us focuses on what is important to us at that very moment which is survival. As norms collapse we realize that we don’t then know how to behave. We don’t know how to reach out to others. We no longer have a working framework within which we can carry on with “business as usual”.

One of my favorite adverts of all time is a 197 commercial by IBM about the future of business being on the internet:

The fact that there was no reasonable answer to the question of “why” is something I have been asking you to think about now for some time. Consider how many of the issues we face today in the world and that includes business is because we avoided being real and we have not truly asked “why”.

We are talking about business here but this also works for you as a person. Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. And then think whether what you are doing truly reflects who you are (and who you want to be) instead of reflecting who you think others expect you to be.

Establishing trust and norms from zero using values and convictions takes more effort and a longer time. At the same time the bonds forged this way are unshakeable. A crisis doesn’t fundamentally change who you are or what you do. A global stressor then becomes a challenge to be overcome, not a problem that threatens your existence.