This above all. To Thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
-W. Shakespeare, Hamlet
Be authentically yourself and it will all work itself out. This reads like wise advice from a loving parent and familiar principles from the worlds of craft and Modernism. From our past, authenticity in purpose, material, place and process are values of both Modernists like Neutra and the British Arts & Crafts movement.
So where does America stand on these ideas as a community today?
In the book titled Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (Harvard Business School Press, 2007) the authors give loads of advice on what to do to take full advantage of the newly discovered enthusiasm consumers have for authenticity. The book does not counsel the reader on how to be more authentic but instead advises on how to render the consumers perception of your company more authentic.
"If Fake..then you should mask your inauthenticity and create a self-contained offering that obscures the inconsistency between what is said and what is done"
-James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II
In another best selling business book Rework, we see sharply contrasting advice:
"Standing for something isn't just about writing it down. It's about believing it and living it."
"That's the path we all should take. Get the chisel out and start making something real. Anything else is just a distraction."
Hmmm,..one of these things is not like the other. Who do you trust? These Harvard business school guys or Mr. Fried and Shakespeare.
Mask your inauthenticity? Create an offering that obscures? That sounds like this fake news business that we have all been hearing so much about. It's a nice way describing the act of lying and I wonder if their mothers know they are encouraging others to do it.
The relatively young American brand Shinola has used some of the techniques suggested in the book to artfully place itself into the perceived-authentic-Made-in-America-space despite the fact that the vast majority of their product manufacture occurs in factories in China, Thailand and elsewhere.
last year the Federal Trade Commission insisted that Shinola re-label their watches and leather goods to more accurately reflect their true origins. Having already established the brand, I don't think consumers even noticed the change (or wanted to see their beloved "local" brand in a different light).
There is the argument that we can't manufacture competitively in the U.S. because of our higher labor costs. Yes, a lot has changed in the last half century. So much that maybe we are not supposed to be making complex obsolete status-symbol time pieces in America in 2017. I'm just saying that there is probably a more capable, reliable and accurate time piece on your mobile phone already.
Becoming more real may have other unintended positive effects too. Like, maybe you'll make some friends. So remember, it is best as Oscar Wilde said it:
Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
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