They say truth is stranger than fiction. It’s more popular and profitable, too.
Remember the 1998 movie The Truman Show? One of the most prophetic movies of all time has come to life. It’s come to all of our lives. The only difference is we are all on both sides of the screen. In this new reality – the business of reality – we are all both products and consumers.
Reality sells because it taps into all sorts of basic human needs. The need for attention, for community, to be heard, to relate, and to escape. And the more complex life on this planet becomes, the more time we spend alone with our gadgets, the more we seek to fulfill those growing needs.
Reality is addictive, and companies are capitalizing on it, big-time. From reality TV and YouTube to Facebook and Twitter, consumers can’t get enough and it’s incredibly cheep to produce. More and more, people generate content for free and pay through the nose to consume it. What a combination.
Just think about it. Every time you generate a tweet, a Facebook (FB) entry, a LinkedIn (LNKD) update, a YouTube video, a comment on your favorite website, even an email, you’ve generated a product – free of charge – that others are paying to consume. In fact, we’re all paying for all the services, the gadgets, and the ads. It’s big bucks.
In addition to all those basic human needs that being part of this new reality fulfills, the one thing nobody talks about is the enormous cultural pressure to conform. If you’re human, you feel the tug. It’s a surprisingly powerful tug.
And since, the last time I checked, business leaders and executives are all indeed human, I wanted to provide some practical, common sense rules to help you folks navigate and thrive in this new reality – and expose a few popular myths and fads, in the process.
Resist the urge to conform to the status quo. Machiavelli was one of history’s most insightful observers of human behavior and the first to realize how important it is for leaders to fight the status quo. Those who follow popular fads and conventional wisdom are, by definition, followers, not leaders. If everyone is doing it or saying, “That’s how it’s done,” those are damn good reasons to question it.
Focus on your product, not you. Personal branding is a hollow promise that creates a bottomless need to feel special. Like it or not, you are not special. You’re a flesh and blood human like everyone else. And you are not a product. That’s not your job. Your job is to focus on developing products and services that beat the competition, delight customers, and provide value to shareholders. That’s what really matters. Your personal brand doesn’t.
Keep it real. The irony of reality content is that it’s mostly a bunch of feel good fluff written by self-proclaimed gurus who are clueless about what it really takes to be successful in the real world. I just came across a popular article that says leaders of the future should focus on collaborating, contributing, sharing, diversity, compassion, and managing their egos. Nobody’s accountable, everybody’s a winner, everyone gets a gold star. What a bunch of utopian garbage.
Keep your relationships real. Your network is one of your most important assets – your real network, not your virtual one. If you want people to go to bat for you, you have to have a relationship with them. A real one. I’ve been at this a long time and every opportunity that has ever come my way has been the result of a real relationship with a real person in real time. Really.
Do not put yourself out there. I don’t care what anyone says, there’s nothing for your career or your business in reality land. LinkedIn is for job seekers. Twitter is for entertainers and others who want attention and those who stalk them. Reality TV is for housewives, Kardashians and Mark Cuban. I don’t know what Facebook is for. Don’t even get me started on YouTube. Your time is precious. Don’t waste it.
Forget management fads. It’s bad enough that consultants are always invading your inbox trying to sell you on the latest management fads. Now, every time some self-proclaimed guru writes a book about emotional intelligence or strengths-based leadership or Gallup publishes a self-serving study on employee engagement, the social media hordes descend on it like flies on you-know-what. You want management wisdom, read Peter Drucker.
Trust your gut. It takes a lot of confidence and courage to stand up to all the peer pressure, conventional wisdom, groupthink, and sugarcoating yes-men, and tell them all where to go. Follow your gut and do what you think is right. Never mind what the rest of the world is doing.That’s what real leaders do. That’s what successful people do. That’s what you need to do.
The irony is, the reality movement is all about contradictions. The more real people are supposed to be, the more fake they are. The more mindful they’re supposed to be of each other, the more selfish their behavior is. The more open and transparent they’re supposed to be, the more virtual walls they put up.
Don’t be a brand; build brands. Don’t be a product; make products. Don’t be part of the reality business; just be real.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.