Raise the bar on authenticity. Let’s talk sincerity

“’The hardest thing is to be sincere,’ young André Gide wrote in his journal in 1890, decades before receiving the Nobel Prize…”

And so began a recent Brain Pickings.org treatise on the topic of sincerity, which in turn collided with a raft of other articles and posts I’ve seen recently on that old chestnut authenticity.

I’m not going to restate my whole exploration of authenticity today – you can read my post from a couple of years ago here.

Suffice to say authenticity means to be real, not false or copied. That’s it. And as for broader attributions of goodness and light, no such things exist. Real means real and you can really be Mussolini or really Mother Teresa – authenticity applies equally with very different results.

Which brings me back to sincerity. I don’t think authenticity asks enough of us or, to be more specific in context of this article, of organisations and the brands they build. Is just being real the best we can do?

Raise the bar

To have and practice sincerity raises the bar. Being earnest in communications and having honesty and lack of duplicity in intent and action. Now that’s more like it.

A swing through the thesaurus indicates a measure of overlap between the two ideas and it could easily be argued that to be sincere one first needs to be authentic in what we do. And that is really my point.

Sincerity is the point where I can see and feel those twin pillars of purpose and values. For even an “authentic what” needs to be delivered with sincerity for me to believe it. If something is being done for show, even if it is authentic, I’ll know.

In the continuation of the Brain Pickings article Aldous Huxley is quoted saying:

“All literature, all art, best seller or worst, must be sincere, if it is to be successful… A man cannot successfully be anything but himself… Only a person with a Best Seller mind can write Best Sellers; and only someone with a mind like Shelley’s can write Prometheus Unbound. The deliberate forger has little chance with his contemporaries and none at all with posterity.”

I could equally apply that sentiment of “deliberate forgery”. It is a great way to describe much of what passes for brand. Every day I see organisations eschew sincerity for hype or expediency and wonder why it doesn’t work.

For example, it’s no use having a purpose and values around helping people work together better if you build an app that helps people collaborate (authentic), but build it in a way that reinforces siloes, separation and disconnection of the people building it (not sincere).

Or having a purpose and values around building financial responsibility by providing a financial planning service (authentic), but promoting that service on gambling websites (not sincere).

So, the approach for building a brand with sincerity might look something like this.

  • Get to know what you believe (your values)
  • Find what you care about (your purpose)
  • Are they reflected in what you are doing (authenticity)?
  • Use that intention in how you deliver (sincerity).

I’m going to raise the bar on authenticity. Let’s take things up a level and aim for sincerity. Just being real isn’t enough.

See you next week.

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan

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D. John Carlson
D. John Carlson
4 years ago

This is a really important message. Unfortunately too few people have the courage to be authentic