Authenticity is The New Bullshit


Authenticity is something many talk about but few deliver. Why? Maybe they're not concentrating on the real job – to suck less. That's the subtext of Hugh MacLeod's latest book. It will suck about 90 minutes out of your life that you won't get back. It might change your life in the process. The choice is yours.

authenticity is the new bullshitWhy is it OK to say or write BS but not to say what it really means? Bullshit. I guess that’s what they call political correctness. I call it hypocrisy. Just like how Rupert Murdoch seems to have gotten caught out.

Be that as it may, Authenticity is The New Bullshit is the latest title in Hugh MacLeod’s portfolio.  It is a MUST READ for anyone thinking about the digital enterprise. The subtext is ‘how not to suck.’ I like that idea. It fits perfectly with what we are attempting – sucking less.

If you’ve not read MacLeod’s stuff before it can, at first sight, seem like a stroll down some off beat philosophical rabbit hole. If however you read with an open mind, then it quickly becomes apparent that MacLeod is spinning real truths. The only way you will know that is if, as you read, you sense an internal warmth and quiet agreement. Of course it’s not all like that. Try this out:

You don’t get successful because some enlightened being told you how. You get successful because somehow circumstances forced you to ACTUALLY put your balls on the line. And this has always been the case.

There’s a few of those but the one I like best is this. It is a paraphrase from a conversation between Tom Peters and Horst Brandstätter, the owner and CEO of Playmobil, the German toy company.

TOM: Hmmm… These Playmobil toys of yours… they do amazingly well, all over the world. So what’s their secret? What do they do that’s so interesting?
HORST: It’s not what the toy does that’s interesting. It’s what the child does with the toy that’s interesting.

As MacLeod says: these exchanges provide the opportunity to grasp moments of clarity. It got me thinking.

We are surrounded by technology. Each day there seems to be some shiny new thing to play with. But how many vendors think about the ‘what they do’ aspect? Too often I sense many vendors are continuing to force predictable behaviors instead of letting users show them where to go.

That is one (of many) explanations why so much enterprise software sucks. It (sort of) explains why was able to come in under the radar and build a formidable, global presence. It explains why some of the largest vendors struggle so much with figuring out responses to the new kids on the block.

What do you think?  should the subtext of whatever we’re doing be ‘to suck less?’ Let me know in comments.

Update: this from Gary Turner: Real just got shit

PS – if you’re reading this and in the advertising world then I strongly recommend starting at page 96.

Disclosure: I own a lot of Hugh MacLeod’s art. It inspires.

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    1. elephantspaychk says:

      One of the challenges with enterprise software is the way it’s purchased. The “buyer” (and I don’t mean the guy/gal in purchasing) may not be the “user” (or the only user).
      So, for example, a travel approval system may do a great job of notifications/approvals, but sucks for people actually making the reservations or doing the expense reports resulting from business travel.
      To some extent, vendors know they need to make a lot of people happy. OK, I’m not keeping a straight face. Vendors care about what it takes to close the deal and shove their software down people’s throats. Why would they improve the experience (in a real innovative/competitive way) if it doesn’t *directly* help them sell more?
      I wish they would, but it’s a situation unlikely to change until the way software is acquired, and the way companies value their employee’s experience (working for them, not their employee’s computer experience) changes.
      My opinion only, not the opinion of the software vendor I’m employed by.  :-))

      1. says:

        elephantspaychk Isn’t that why so many companies are frightened of software coming in through the back door?

        1. elephantspaychk says:

          Yep. It’s a start. 
          But, even back-doored software gets diluted. Or, doesn’t integrate well with other back-doored stuff.
          The points you make are a perspective a lot of people could use. For example, many companies of people I’ve spoken to, when they open a ticket with IT, it’s “closed successfully” when IT answers the user’s question, not when IT solves the user’s problem. IT may never be able to solve the problem, but telling the user “can’t do it” makes for a successful response. That’s a fundamentally flawed perspective. 

    2. kyield says:

      Authenticity isn’t something that can be spun without great risk of backfiring — you either are or you aren’t. Leadership can help, culture can help, aligning incentives can help, balls in-between vise help a lot:-), but authenticity is I think probably some combination of genetics, upbringing and early experiences – it manifests as a moral compass that keeps us on track even when enormous carrots and sometimes sticks may be constantly pushing us in directions that conflict with our instincts. Sucking less is what mediocrity seeks to do in an incremental manner in an attempt to not get fired. Great products and companies obviously have a much higher bar from inception than sucking less–most are passionate about improving the world and want to get paid very well for doing so. They are surrounded by those trying to latch on for the ride–SV is full of the latter these days, but authenticity is quite real. Do corporate cultures understand them? Of course not. Do they try to copy them? All day long every day–it usually backfires, but not always. It should–in this industry one of the problems is that too many customers have nearly identical cultures as those trying to suck less rather than those who “were born to change the world” – hopefully for the better:-)

      1. says:

        kyield – suggest reading the book – it’s free. SV is a bubble – it isn’t the world and sometimes I find it sucks badly. 
        Sucking less is my way of saying that no-one’s perfect but I’m looking to master something…and that takes time.

      2. says:

        kyieldA few points: first, thanks for your frequent and frank appearances on our diginomica comment threads. You’ve added a lot to our discussions here…Dennis’ point that Hugh’s work is worth diving into is well taken. In particular his books “Ignore Everybody” and “Evil Plans” have changed how I think about creativity, much of it relevant not only personally but professionally. The enterprise needs more raw soul and less polish. 
        Maybe that’s where a discussion of authenticity comes in. What it means to be authentic while respecting that in the enterprise, people do expect you to impose some filter on yourself. Not because you are profane but because they don’t have time for your spew, however authentic. They want the essence not the daily lifestream drivel. 
        One thing to keep in mind is that Hugh didn’t really write much about authenticity in the ebook itself. In terms of ties to content, he could have called the book “The Art of Sucking Less.” Several key areas he delves into are creativity, meaning and mastery. I can relate to the pursuit of mastery as I think that’s what it’s all about. I can’t speak for Hugh but I think his 
        “Authenticity is the new Bullshit” line is very similar to what you said about people in SV who are “latched on for the ride.” I *think* with that line he’s railing against those who have the absurd idea they can “suck less,” much less succeed on any level, without putting in the work. But not the punch the clock work. The work of creating things that freaking matter – “climb your own Mt Everest” as he would put it. Maybe Hugh will chime in here…

        There are more detailed discussions of authenticity elsewhere, he’s an interesting one that argues we crave authenticity because of a “subconscious desire for truth and integrity.”
        I agree, but I’d put it slightly differently: I think in this world where everything is monetized we crave interacting with people who are not for sale and the work they produce. What is surprising is how relevant this is to the enterprise, where there seems to be a battle between conforming to how things are and realizing that to compete in this economy you have to dismantle/reinvent and do it leaner and better than what you did before. Not easy.

    3. TomVanDoorslaer says:

      I like the punchline about playmobil (although I prefer lego)
      One of the big problems I see every day, is that the enterprise IT software is built up as a monolithic block. No matter how many building blocks there were, IT has played with them and put them together into one giant block.
      Once that has been done, there’s not much left to play with for business. So they go straight to SI’s and other software vendors to avoid having to play with whatever IT built.
      SOA  is a first step to having business folks play with your blocks and see what they create. but even then, typically, business is not allowed to play with the services and API’s, because that’s an IT job.
      I agree to some extent that IT, should do IT and business should do business. but wouldn’t it be better if IT and business teamed up. give business the API’s to play around with, and once they have something they like, consolidate it. and then repeat the process. (sounds like open source tactics)
      pursuit of APIness?

    4. says:

      Bear Grylls yes I do…got a problem with anti-hypocrisy?

      1. Bear Grylls says:

        dahowlett Bear Grylls Pardon me for not being more specific. Your observations, to me, would carry more weight without the profanity. But I’m old-fashioned that way.

        1. says:

          Bear Grylls dahowlett Profanity? In what way? Get real dude…and attend some of the board meetings I do.

        2. Bear Grylls says:

          dahowlett Bear GryllsTo answer your questions — in your headline. In response to your comment — there’s no need to talk down to me. I’ve been entirely respectful to you and deserve no less in return.

        3. says:

          Bear Grylls dahowlett the title is the title of a book. check the link to see what I mean. Check also some of his work and his client list.