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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Branding and the importance of being authentic

How many times have you . . .

  • Needed help from another individual or department to resolve an issue, but they put obstacles in your path rather than help you—for no real reason at all?
  • Had a pressing matter to discuss at a meeting, but the meeting kept being deflected to other, trivial matters?
  • Participated in a "brainstorming" session, only to have your ideas dismissed out-of-hand?
  • Been asked for feedback, then had your feedback dismissed when the listener didn't like it?

Why must this be so? Oddly enough, it is simply the nature of the group. The key, psychoanalysts say, is a destructive force called "regression." What that means is that joining the group sends us back in time, to a more primitive mental state, where we are driven by irrational feelings of fear, hatred, and jealousy. So we hoard information, deflect productive conversations, put other people down, and deny any responsibility for things going wrong—and none of this for any good reason that we can think of.


Given that groups are so important these days, it is even more frustrating that they tend to fail. For we live in the age of specialization, when most projects require collaboration by a diverse team of specialists. Even the most basic brand communication plan, for example, can require the input of copywriters, designers, multimedia specialists, web content specialists, change management specialists, human resources representatives, diversity managers, cross-functional representatives, line specialists, and more.


But there is good news: Every group has the potential to confront and overcome this innate tendency. And if the group can manage to do so effectively, it can literally soar, by far, above the sum potential of its individual members.


Assuming that the group is enlightened enough to confront its own destructiveness, what, specifically, can group members do to stop it?


The answer is simple but powerful.


Be authentic.


Say what you are thinking or feeling, as directly as possible while still being constructive and appropriate.


Why does authenticity work?


Because secrecy and collusion feed the dysfunctional system. You know what that looks like—everybody getting together and pretending that everything is OK when it's not. Everybody smiling, but underground, the negative energies of the group fester, breed, and grow stronger.


Authenticity is absolutely nothing new. It's a staple of every good movie, even: The main character says what she or he is feeling—tells the group—and their words quickly clear out the cobwebs of secrecy, silence, deception, irrational pain. The group is refreshed; it can go on and live another day. The character is a hero.


Of course, real, positive change takes more than you deciding to be authentic. And the way one person acts may not make much difference. But the fact of the matter is, you can't control what other people do—only what you do. You have the power in you to be authentic, and to encourage others to do the same. The only thing that may stop you—and this is a judgment call on your part—is if the group is just too far down the path of destruction. In that case, you may be punished for taking the risk.


But if things are that bad, you may want to think about what you are doing there—and how long it will take before those negative energies go after you.