Authenticity is necessary but not sufficient
4 min read

Authenticity is necessary but not sufficient

Last newsletter I claimed that the desire for depth was reshaping industries. Bold, perhaps, but the real problem is that ‘desire for depth’ remains unacceptably vague. A view is only as powerful as it is well defined.

So let’s dig in.

What is a ‘movement towards depth’?

I’ve held this question in my discussions with founders all week, and realised that it’s this movement towards depth  that almost always underpins my advice. It is relevant to improving your pitching, culture, strategy, and more. It is not a cure-all, but it’s damn important.

Ok, so I must know it pretty well, right?

Teaching it most days?

… sadly no, it’s still not particularly easy for me to express. I’m not sure we even have the right English words to describe this concept succinctly.

Yet it underpins good teachings across all disciplines.

Let’s start with what ‘movement towards depth’ is not.

At first people assume I am talking about authenticity. And while authenticity points in the right direction, it's only a fraction of the picture.

Authenticity is party necessary, but not sufficient.

Put yourself in my shoes this morning. You’re advising my client on a pitch to a very senior ranked individual in the department of defense.

Is more authenticity going to help?

To me, authenticity means expressing exactly what you feel in the moment, no filter, no pretense.

The truth is, most of us should not be authentic from the noisiest parts of our experience:

Hi, great to meet you. I love your uniform, though it’s a lot of badges, do they weigh a lot? Weird colour combinations together like that. Oh man, I’m so tired, I was up late last night working on your pitch. My shoulders are killing me. Long week. Anyway! Excited to be here! It’s crazy what you guys are up to. I’m so frustrated at the way software development works in this industry, you’ve got to be crazy to organise the way you do ……

Let’s assume this is a completely authentic expression of what was on my clients mind.

Authentic. But.. effective? No way.

“But you don’t want to be fake!”

And I totally agree. The meeting might last longer, but it would be equally ineffective to show up with a stiff fake persona, talking only about the weather, and attempting to be something you’re not.

Authentic vs fake is not the right dimension to focus on. Instead, we need to assess if we are moving the conversation towards depth.

Are you authentically representing the deeper parts of yourself? Are you navigating the conversation towards their deeper cares and passions? Are you moving them towards a deeper understanding of your idea?

These are examples of depth, and authenticity is a powerful tool, but only when in service of movements towards depth such as these.

This is not a new idea.

Marketing and sales theory has talked for decades about how building rapport is critical to having influence.

Strong rapport requires sharing from and asking questions that point deeper than the surface of our experience.

While my language might sound abstract, it’s obvious: If all you do is talk about the weather, you’re not building much rapport.

So we need to move deeper. This means talking about something that has more meaning to you than the weather. It means having more deeply thought through ideas and views. It means asking questions that subtly yet powerfully encourage the same movement towards depth in the other person.

A deep conservation about something well considered and incredibly meaningful to you both? You won’t be forgotten. You well have influence. You will close the sale.

The trouble is, we are not taught how to have these conversations. It requires a well honed ability to move towards your own depth, and speak authentically from that place.

You want all the benefits of authenticity, the straightforwardness and the trust it engenders, but you want this unfiltered channel to be tuned into the right station. You want it to transmit something with depth.

You might in a very unfiltered way, exclaim the joy and passion you feel about the consequences of part of your pitch. Delivered authentically, very powerful.

You might not blurt out that you’re thinking about lunch in the middle of a meeting. Not because you’re being fake, but because when you’re tuned into a deeper part of your experience, these thoughts are not the ones you’re listening to.

So therefore, authenticity is very helpful.


It is more important to get in touch with a deeper part of yourself.

This is the more interesting, more creative, more expressive part. This is something that we all have.

Yet it’s not singin something we talk about very much. We don’t have many words to describe this movement in all of its nuance. So I say we help develop them.

When I say a movement towards depth, I mean a movement away from the superficial topics. Away from superficial emotions, reactions and exclamations in meetings.

Away from mindless memorization of facts, procedures, and process in learning.

Away from an overemphasis on presentation over substance in marketing, sales, and pitches.

Instead, a movement towards: deeper cares, bigger feelings, and more ambitious purpose. A more fundamental understanding of knowledge, your business, and your views. A deeper appreciation for the real motivators and passions of your people, and of yourself.

I believe that this movement towards depth is the most critical skill that a modern worker can develop.

Is this movement towards depth that, when cultivated across all aspects of your life, will make you more resilient to the rapidly changing work environment.

It gives you a better understanding of what's important to you, and an ability to express and connect with others about those topics.

It makes you more creative, because you're combining thoughts and ideas on a more fundamental level, giving you greater ability to create something new.

Depth generated talents are what we need in the modern era, while under seige from information overload.

It is those that have cultivated depth in themselves in their thinking and in their communication that stand out.

And without the ability to express this and recognize it and others, you become just another drop in the ocean, authentically expressing the same tired message, living without richness purpose and individuality. Owch.

Don’t just strive for authenticity.

Strive to authentically express the deepest parts of yourself, your knowledge, and your creations.

The future will be created by those who can.