But above all, in order to be, never try to seem. – Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1935-1951
How do you create a business that is authentic – something that is consistent with your values and approach to life and the world?
This is actually quite a difficult question to answer, because we’re so wrapped up in layers of learning and expectation and beliefs that it’s hard to find anything that’s truly “our view”.
We may have to start by looking at people who live in the way we would like to live – find people to model.
What do we do once we find them?
Acting the life you want to lead
The first step is to recognise just how little we know about everyone else and how little they know about us.
It’s like a sea of darkness, the pitch black of ignorance – of a lack of knowledge.
You start to understand others by what you see and hear on the surface – your senses can only take in surface impressions.
For example, someone may act in a certain way, tell you about themselves, make certain decisions – and you have to infer their motives and capability from these surface impressions.
Are they telling you something because they truly believe it or because they know that’s what you to hear?
How do you tell the difference between someone who is authentic and someone who isn’t, someone who has something of value and someone who is serving reheated, stale ideas?
Telling good from bad
The good news is that you have more information available to you now than there has ever been in the past.
If someone is selling you their programme or course or package you’ll probably have someone, somewhere who’s actually experienced it and can tell you about it.
If you go through enough of their material you can start to tell how much of it is sizzle and how much is steak, what you’re going to get for your money.
And, along the way, you’ll start picking up clues for the options you have to be who you want to be.
For example, at one extreme you might have a pony-tailed, long-bearded academic talking about his research and findings and what they mean.
At the other extreme you might have a well-groomed person in an expensive suit talking about his sales training programme.
You might have a writer talking about her journey and interviewing others on her podcast about their approach to building an independent writing career.
And you could have a presenter, with great stage presence who puts out content that is amplified by her personality and approach and appearance – in particular how attractive she is.
Each individual will have a different approach, one suited to their personality and values and preferred ways of acting.
It’s tempting to think that academic content is more robust than that put out by lay people or practitioners but that isn’t always the case.
Academic content is not always practical and usable and content created by practitioners is not always unsubstantiated “common sense”.
The thing to look for in these various examples is elements that you think will work for you – approaches that fit the way you want to position yourself.
If you believe that lighting, makeup and clothes are critical for the impression you want to make then that needs to be part of the capability you put in place for your business.
If you think that you can go with the content you have and it makes no difference whether you wear a suit or not – then that’s ok too.
The first step to being authentic is acting in a way that is consistent with the kind of values and behaviours you want to model yourself, having seen how others model them.
Choosing an approach that works for you
What’s important is selecting ways to act that are consistent with the way in which you want to come across.
For example, I prefer the kinds of material created by presenters who focus on the content rather than on the packaging.
I have been looking at video production for a few weeks now and trying to work out what kind of approach would work for me.
Is it a screencast, an overhead camera, a mix of direct presentation and cuts to content?
There are many examples, from exquisitely crafted segments with high quality DSLRs and extensive editing to one-take videos where you press record, do your thing, press stop and you’re done.
I’ve tried different approaches and the one that’s resonated with me most strongly is the one-take video strategy.
It’s simple, direct and focuses on the content and message.
It’s consistent with my approach to drawing and writing, which is to keep things simple, direct and frugal.
In that sense, I feel like that approach would be more “authentic” than if I tried to add more complexity or production quality to the content.
That decision will turn off some people and attract others – but you shouldn’t do things just to appeal to a market segment.
You can’t fake emotion or values – you can just use actions to get across your intent and leave it to people to make up their own minds about you and your material.
And the reason you start by finding people to model is not so you can become like them.
You can’t become someone else – you have to build on who you are and what you believe in.
The purpose of finding people to model is to study the different ways in which people act out their values and beliefs and give you ideas for what you can do yourself.
The reflective process
Once you have a go and act the way you think you should – then you have to take time to study and reflect on the result.
For example, if you want to write, then you start by reading a lot, and then sitting down and writing.
Then you look back at what you’ve written, reflecting on what works, what doesn’t work and where you can improve.
That simple process is the key to improving how you do what you do and becoming more authentic in the way you do it.
It’s the same process whether you’re creating a course, video content, a new business model.
Act, reflect, act, reflect.
It’s all about making that surface level visible, making it as easy as possible for someone to look at you, see what you’re about and decide whether to do business with you.
It’s about making it easy for them – and that’s what we’ll cover next.