EZ - Portraits - Matt - Option 3 - 5-2-16
Matt Classen, Founder and CEO at Arrow Northwest

Hello there. Let me begin this common sense session by asking you a common sense question:

Where it concerns the relationships you build with people, are you more likely to want to cultivate long-term friendships with people who are authentic, or people who are superficial? While I don’t have any elaborate statistics that illuminate an exhaustive study that proves which of these two options more people choose, but I will take a guess that most people who are asked this question would want to build long-term relationships with people who are authentic, rather than those who are superficial. I can assume this with a great degree of certainty because every human being who has ever lived has had to grapple with the notion that life is impermanent. As such, as a means to validate our own existence, it is reasonable to assume that you will seek to associate with others who best reflect who you are, what interests you, and how you seek to live out fundamental aspects of your life that provide a sense of meaning, or, a reaffirmation that you are not alone in this existence. The deeper one understands themselves, the deeper the relationships they are able to build with others. It is the exact opposite with people who err on the side of superficiality. After all, how can any loyalty exist where superficial is the norm?

Now, let me ask another common sense question: Should we assume that organizations should be any different? More specifically, if an organization is a mere reflection of a collective group of people, how is this entity reflecting a deeper essence that is authentic and real (and not just superficial) to its target market, and stakeholders in general? After all, if authenticity is key for individuals in personal relationships, why would organizations strive for anything less with their brand identity and internal culture, especially in hyper-competitive markets where differentiation is key for both prospective and existing employees, customers and stakeholders alike? Um, like, has anyone ever heard of the principle of supply and demand?

Unfortunately, the basic truth is that most organizations, by far, embrace the superficial rather than the authentic where it concerns their brand identity, rather than supply a very clear demand. This of course impacts the organizations culture, and the ability to attract, and sustain, long-term brand loyalty. Based on years of industry experience, I will submit three reasons for why this is the standard modus operandi:

1. Industrial Era mindset pervades
In previous articles, I have spoken about the Industrial Era mindset and what that entails. In the Industrial Era, people were considered “resources”, or cogs in a wheel. The notion of building a strong culture to reflect an authentic brand identity would have been laughably out-of-touch with the reality of the time. After all, on the assembly line or in the coal pits, all an employee had to do was perform the same repetitive action over and over again. There was far less thinking involved in work activities, so, people could be considered “resources”. But we are now operating in the Information-knowledge Era where people are increasingly more highly educated, democratic and empowered. Industries have also changed from the assembly line mentality to daily functions where almost everyone, from the top down, needs to use their cognitive skills to formulate abstract solutions in an ever changing environment. Where all this concerns authentic brand identity and how this reflects culture, is that we are still operating, mostly, with an Industrial Era mindset rather than with an Information-Knowledge Era mindset. And why would this be? I mean, the concept is easy to understand, or? Well, my dear madame or sir, I would supposition that decades of practice within the Industrial Era mindset deeply programmed and reinforced collective thinking to the point that it became the systemic, de facto method for viewing how business should be done. Such deep programming is extremely hard to reprogram because we’re human, not machines.

2. Masculine/left-brain still pervades over the Feminine/right-brain
For those out there who are unfamiliar with what the Masculine and the Feminine represent symbolically, I can give you a brief overview. The Masculine is associated with the left brain, which is structure, strategy, order, black-and-white and sequence. The Feminine, or right brain, is associated with abstract thinking, feeling, color and intuition just to name a few. The Masculine has been dominant in world society for millennia. All one has to do is look at who holds most leadership positions, especially in business and government, or power in general, and you’ll understand the point. The Masculine is typically represented in positions of control, and anything that threatens that control, like the Feminine, is often denigrated or disregarded because it threatens the dominance of the Masculine. If we looking in a business context, then we can see how the Industrial Era mindset, coupled with the Masculine having the position of dominance, could make it hard for the Feminine, or right brain aspects of running a business, to be not only understood, but accepted as a part of what makes up the collective identity of an organization whole. There are some aspects of this in business currently. For example, leadership, strategy and operations are still male dominated, while human resources departments, which are more about nurturing (e.g. the Feminine) people and is almost always comprised of women. Generally, the HR department in organizations is typically on the lower wrong of overall importance because, and I’m generalizing here, the Masculine will refer to that as the “touchy-feely” part of the business, and therefore less relevant in the overall importance of the operation of the organization. In fact, HR stands for human resources, where people are considered “resources”, or things, not people. So to try to integrate the abstract, or the nurturing, or embracing the notion of infinite human potential represented in each individual, as well as the collective, is very threatening for the command and control structure of the masculine, which places its emphasis on control and predictability as of paramount importance in all things. This last point brings up the final supposition, and that is the fear of loss of control. 

3. Fear of loss of control
Business functions smoothly where there is structure, predictability and clearly defined methods for measurement. When we want to integrate the abstract and less of the measurable, which brand identity and its importance with regard to organizational culture represents, standard masculine leadership cannot fit this into the overall thinking equation because it is not precisely measurable. Since it is not precisely measurable then it is rejected out of hand as illegitimate, not serious, or even worse “touchy-feely”, which is the grandest of all denigrations for something that is extremely important in creating strategic differentiation over less evolved organizational mindsets.

The above three reasons make it entirely difficult to find the leadership will to thoroughly integrate the depth of brand identity, and the power of organizational culture, because they require a very deep introspection into what makes an organization authentic, or to reflect on the depth our humanity, in a way that people both inside and outside the organization can identify with on fundamental levels. It is therefore more easy to leave that stone unturned, and simply slap a logo, or a superficially contrived story, on an organization’s face rather than really examine how to leverage the humanity of an organization for the benefit of the brand identity and organizational culture, and how people both inside and outside the organization relate with these on the deepest of levels. 

This may all come across as extremely heavy, and impossible to integrate practically into the organizational mindset. It would be, so don’t even try! It is important, however, to grasp these general concepts in order to develop a brand identity and organizational culture that can take a wee bit of the best parts of our humanity and reflect that, authentically, both internally and externally, for maximum loyalty and engagement. Organizations that are on the right path, like Nike or Apple or Google, clearly have brand identity and organizational culture advantages (and sustained superior financial performance to boot) over competitive entities that don’t. That, dear reader, is entirely the point.

In next week’s article, I will talk about how your organization can assume a mission-driven, authentic values-based identity, while fully embracing the profit motive.