Maybe I didn't really know you. Maybe you were just a mirage. Maybe the world is full of food and sex and spectacle and we're all just hurling towards an apocalypse, in which case it's not your fault... ~ Lloyd Dobler
One of my favorite movies of all time is Say Anything and Lloyd Dobler, played by my favorite actor John Cusack, is my movie character hero. Why? Well there are many reasons but I love Lloyd because he is so transparent, honest and authentic. He didn't hold back and he said what he meant. That is just Lloyd. Very few films have ever tried to be as smart, genuine, funny and authentic as Say Anything. If you haven't seen it you really need to check it out. It is genius!
There has been a lot of chatter in the recruiting and social media blogosphere on what it means to be authentic and have authenticity which got me thinking about Lloyd Dobler again. With the explosion of social media it can often be a difficult chore to decide who you follow, put your trust into and whether or not those people behind the social media curtain really are who they appear to be. If they aren't who they appear to be does that impact or change how valuable or important what they say and do is to you?
The other day on recruitingblogs.com Maren Hogan organized a free for all discussion on authenticity and whether or not authenticity is even important. It was lively and entertaining but I am not sure there was much consensus at the end of the day. That is perfectly fine by the way as the mere "beating up" of ideas on this topic was well worth the investment of my time and I am sure the others who participated would agree.
I don't claim to have this nailed down and I certainly don't believe I am completely firm yet on what it is to be authentic or demonstrate authenticity. That doesn't even take into account the issue of whether or not authenticity is important. That disclaimer aside I decided to offer some of my thoughts, which are still congealing, on this topic.
One of the more common dictionary definitions of Authenticity is:
The quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine.
It is interesting to note that in just about every definition of Authentic or Authenticity the word Trustworthy or some version of it shows up. Trustworthy, according to most defnitions is:
Deserving of trust or confidence; dependable; reliable.
Using those two definitions I would argue that, if you are not authentic then you can't be trusted. Going another step further, if you are following someone who is completely different then their online or social media persona or brand then it is likely your confidence in their message will be shaken. Lack of confidence leads to lack of trust. If both of these are true then the messenger, regardless of how important or correct their position might be, loses credibility and the message may no longer matter.
The issue for those who use social media for business, to recruit, to market or to sell is that the book definition of authenticity doesn't quite tell the whole story or address the key elements of authenticity in a business situation.
As the discussion in the chat room progressed it became apparent that many did not like or subscribe to the idea that who someone is in real life must be consistent or congruent with who they are online. Essentially ones persona, brand or how they are perceived, does not have to match up with who they really are. Afterall, this is true with movie stars, rock stars, talk show hosts, athletes, politicians and just about anyone who enjoys a level of celebrity. Your personal brand is critical and it does not always seem to match up with the real you. The question is should it?
To me, this level of disconnect between who you really are and who you are percieved to be (your brand) makes your message less credible and less authentic. At least for me. Based on the definition above, the presence of a huge gap between the real person and the percieved person will likely lessen the confidence in the message and render the messenger less trustworthy.
By definition not authentic.
Others in the chat said that consistency is key. They argued a consistent message with consistent behavior are THE key contributing factors to whether or not someone was authentic or had authenticity. Detractors to this argument said it was possible to be consistently not authentic. Good point. But consistency does have a place in authenticity, doesn't it? I mean being consistently not authentic is, by definition, not authentic.
Finally, others thought that owning up to being wrong and admitting it publicly was at the core of authenticity. Making public statements or prophering ideas that were proven to be false as a result of fact finding or evidence is ok so long as you own up to it, accept it and make a public statement that you were wrong or have changed your mind. While responsible and noble, I don't think this is the essence of authenticity but rather an element or product of authenticity.
Claudia Faust, at least I think it was Claudia (if it was someone else please let me know so I can credit this quote to the right individual), made a money statement that jump started my own thinkin on authenticity when she said:
If you are true to yourself - your values, your beliefs - and your behavior consistently demonstrates that, then you are authentic.
Yeah, I know, good stuff isn't it? Read it again...it's that good!
Initially I thought to myself if someone is that definition then I will be inclined to trust them which, in my humble opinion, is a key to deciding if they are authentic.
The only issue I had with Claudia's definition is that ones values and beliefs may be different depending on their persona, brand or how they wish to be percieved. One can even be really consistent with that. Being true to yourself may not be all the way to the point of delivering authenticity if your being true to your made up version of yourself. If the foundation is built on shifting sand then the structure built on that foundation will be compromised.
All of this gave me this working definition of authenticity. Before I share this I am not claiming this is the proper definition of authenticity. I am just working through this in my brain and in my heart. I happen to be sharing it with you as I work through it. How transparent of me huh?
Ok, here it is:
Authenticity or being authentic is when the real you and your brand converge.
The real you is defined as your values and beliefs consistently being revealed by your behavior. Pretty much what Claudia said in the chat room the other day.
Brand is the persona, perception or, as Lloyd Dobler would say, mirage you or others have created about you.
When the real you and your brand converge it likely results in trust and others having confidence in your message or what you have to say. To me that is what being authentic is all about
The real Lloyd Dobler and the perception of Lloyd Dobler converge. That is why he is so authentic. People trust Lloyd, have confidence in what he has to say and know how he will behave. I guess that is why he is made the keymaster at the big end of the year party. You have to have seen the movie to get that keymaster reference but trust me it is spot on.
I don't know if this definition of authenticity will hold up under heavy scrutiny. It is a start. As I said above it is a work in progress for me. One thing I know is that I am ready and willing to change my mind and admit it publicly if I do change my thinking on authenticity.
Did you sense my sarcasm?
So what do you think? What is authenticity to you? Does it even matter?