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To Thine Ownself Be True – A Lesson in Authenticity

There is a great example of authenticity in Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet” Polonios says to Laertes, “This above all: to thine ownself be true.” Authenticity is the things you say and do, are the things you believe and do. When companies and brands are authentic and successfully communicate that authenticity to the world, they are in a better position to serve themselves and others. On the flip side, have you ever met someone who described what they stood for, but through the experience of working of them, you learn that their behaviors, actions and practices are untruthful and inaccurate?

To define a person’s authenticity as the perfect intersection of outward seeming and inward being is not a novel idea. Hamlet goes on to describe Claudius as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain!” Authenticity cannot be manipulated, nor can it be contrived. And the difference between whether something is authentic or not is usually a hairline nuance, a gut feeling — you just feel something is genuine or not, and unfortunately, there is no handbook for that. What we do know is that actions (or lack thereof) seem to reaffirm our sneaking suspicions.

There has been an uptick in the use of the word “authenticity” since 1990 (just check Google Ngram). Clearly we are all on a quest to find more meaning and authenticity in our lives and work. But it can be argued that the cult of authenticity is tainted — that which we perceive to be true — is nothing more than a distinction between what is real and isn’t. However, what we value can reveal so much about our true natures and motivations. Perhaps we are all sinking our teeth into a role that suits us, chasing authenticity around like a school crush, throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into the role we think other people want us to play. Our own humanness can only pretend for so long, before our foolish, clumsy selves peek out behind the curtain to reveal our authentic truth to the audience.

Companies are no different. Brand leaders must continuously stay focused on their deeper purpose, authentic story and core values or else a series of incremental shifts can lead genuine companies with great intentions down the rabbit hole, leaving authenticity behind. The shocking truth is authenticity is about actions, meets deeds, meets words, meets truth.

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