Authenticity: Is there an app for that?

by cv harquail on July 20, 2009

A few weeks ago, I finally gave up  my shiny-pink Motorola phone personalized with Hello Kitty stickers, and moved to the lbd of digital tools. Yes, I bought an iPhone.

My iPhone purchase completed a long, slow and ultimately satisfying move from anything PC & Microsoft to all things Apple & Google, a move that has some very important ramifications for my personal identity. But I’ll save my reflections on those for another post, because this move also has some ramifications for authentic organizations.

First, let’s face the truth: Getting an iPhone does change your life.

Perhaps the first way that an iPhone changes your life is that you start to look for apps (applications) that will make everything that you ever wanted to do easier to do.

Apps can automate things that drive you crazy (I can have my music and my phone in the same portable rectangle!), apps can automate processes that you’ve wanted to do that were previously too awkward or dorky (Check out my French & Latin vocabulary flashcards!). Apps can even automate things you never even thought would be possible for you (I can identifying birds by their songs!).

I’ve been told by advertising and so I believe: If there’s something you want to do, there is an app for that. iphone.jpg

An App for Authenticity?

Which begs the question: Why not an app for Authentic Organizations?

If you could create an app for being more authentic what would it look like?

I’ve always been a fan of beeper studies, like those by Csikszentmihalyi, where they use beepers to interrupt people at random times during their day to inquire about their “flow state”. I love the idea of setting up a reminder and then forgetting about it, so that the reminder feels ‘new’ (and less like a workaround for my steel-sieve mind).

So thinking about random reminders and random reinforcement, could we use this idea to create an iPhone-based application for authenticity? Could we write a little program so that organization members would randomly receive little prompts that ask:

In the work that you’re doing right now, what would it mean to be [insert desired identity characteristic here]?

The Authenticity Questions: What does it mean to be ……?

When you ask organization members “What does it mean to be x?” , where x is whatever characteristics they collectively want to be, you’re essentially asking them to find ways to express this desired identity in their actions.

When organization members collectively express “who we want to be” in “what we are doing” the organization is being authentic.

The Authenticity Prompt: Be more ….

In addition to asking people questions that would encourage them to think about how to demonstrate the organization’s identity in whatever they’re doing, you could also use this app to prompt organization members with specific requests:

  • Be more x.
  • Express x in the next thing you do.
  • Notice something around you that reminds you that this organization is x.
  • Acknowledge a colleague for expressing x in her/his behavior.

Maybe this would work like those e-mails that I signed up for from hassle me, (You know, those e-mails that remind me to backup my blog database every seven days or so? Those e-mails that have pretty much saved my digital life?”) They’d be occasional, random, energetic reminders of how you and your colleagues want to be, and how you want the organization to be.200907201613.jpg

Sure, there is the chance that people would ignore the prompts. It could become tedious to be asked to express their organization’s authenticity through what they are doing… The whole thing could end up being as easy to dismiss as the framed mission statements or the slogans on the coffee mugs.

Authenticity Prompts as a leadership tool

Which reminds me of something that the Ivorydale Soap Plant manager, Lloyd Ward, did while he was leading the transformation of that manufacturing facility into a “high commitment work system”.

Every work day, Ward sent out to managers’ mailboxes and line workers’ break room bulletin boards an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with his daily thoughts about what it takes to lead a major organizational change, and why any of us in the organization would want to do it. Sometimes these leadership thoughts were deep reflections, other times they were questions, but every time you could tell that Ward had written them himself, had thought about the idea and considered how it could be applied to the challenges we were facing at Ivorydale.

Come to think of it, Ward’s leadership notes were a bit like a blog post on paper. Low tech, but it worked.

IMG_0712.JPGEach time we received one of Ward’s leadership statements, we managers would talk about them. The line workers/technicians would mention them in conversation and people would argue over whether the ideas were relevant or not.

Everyday, we/the organization got a prompt to think about how we individually and collectively could lead the transformation of the plant. Sometimes we even tried to implement these ideas. Even better, sometimes putting these ideas into practice actually made the difference.

So maybe this idea of an iPhone app for authenticity is not so strange after all.

An authenticity leadership tool could be something as simple as using new technology to deliver a consistent leadership message:

Let’s be who we say we want to be, and let’s do it now.

Would you use an app like that?

{postscript: Here’s an app for assessing how/when you are happy. A direct re-application of  Csikszentmihalyi’s studies.}


Willa Geertsema July 30, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I like your idea about the authenticity prompts… but also really tricky. Organisations have learnt so well to be authentically inauthentic that we don’t really know anymore how to be authentically authentic – and well, we have learnt ourselves to be inauthentically authentic – if you know what I mean?!

Would be great to break through that cycle, and truly surprise people with questions that make them think freely and respond from their own values – not from any prompted expectations.

I like your blog! We need more of this.

Eric October 3, 2009 at 9:09 am

I was thinking along the same lines and found your blog in my search for just such an app. Did you have any luck finding any apps similar to what you describe?

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