Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. – Oscar Wilde
I’m in the closing section of Keith Johnstone’s book Impro: Improvisation and the theatre and he has started writing about masks.
Children delight in masks – they are make believe and wonder and magic.
As we get older, we retreat from masks – and perhaps for good reason.
Johnstone writes that in many cultures masks were seen as having power – those who wore them stopped being themselves and instead took on the spirit of the mask.
Remember Jim Carrey and The Mask? That sort of thing.
Now, these sorts of ideas very quickly make people nervous.
It’s a pagan thing, Johnstone writes. “The church struggled against the Mask for centuries, but what can’t be done by force is eventually done by the all-pervading influence of Western education.”
Now, the idea of the Mask in this section of the book is really Johstone talking about how actors can use the power of the Mask to transform into their characters.
And that is fascinating if you’re an actor but what I’m interested in is its application to the more mundane world of the here and now.
Because here’s the thing.
Even if you haven’t got a real mask on right now you’re still wearing one.
The thing people see when they look at you is your Mask.
You call it something different – your Brand, perhaps.
But in essence, the part of you that you show to the world is the public face of your personality.
What lies underneath is what you think the world sees – what you think of yourself and that is your Identity.
I can’t remember quite where I read about this particular way of describing Brand and Identity – but it’s different from what you will get with a quick search.
Now, let’s say you want to understand how someone else thinks.
Take a child, for example.
How can you understand what a child wants right now?
If you have kids you’ll know this isn’t easy.
Mostly because you want them to do something and they don’t want the same thing.
So, you try and get them to comply, using incentives, threats and force.
Have you noticed how hard it is to see things from their point of view?
How you insist on seeing what’s happening through the eyes of a forty-year old rather than a six-year old?
One way of getting round this is by literally putting on a Mask.
Put on a Batman mask and see how it makes you feel – try the Hulk on for size.
There is a sense of freedom that comes with being anonymous – even though you know you aren’t you can play a new part.
Could this work to understand what your prospect might want?
Many people suggest that you create personas – detailed psychographic profiles of people you want to sell to.
If you just look at those profiles then you’ll still see things from your point of view – and find it hard to empathise with that person.
Why not try and see what happens to the way you think when you put on a mask and act like that person?
You might find that you start to think and feel and act differently – you step into the mind of that person and perhaps start to see what they see when they look at you and your product – perhaps you’ll see what turns them off and what needs to change to get them interested.
The thing is that the Mask unleashes behaviour that you don’t see when it’s not on.
For an example of how it makes things worse read the news reports of political activism anywhere in the world – once people cover their faces they are free to do bad things.
But a Mask can also reveal the real character, the real motivation and the truth that lies beneath the surface.
This time of year a Mask is probably not too far away.
Perhaps it’s worth trying on – for business research, of course.