Resisting the Manufactured Identity Trap

The leadership brand... the corporate culture... Everyone is talking about it. Social media is flooded with jellybean jars full of experts who can tell you how manufacture who you are.

But the whole concept begs the question:

Why have we accepted this realm of chronic marketing where not just consumer products but also businesses and people are incessantly struggling to find the ideal balance between conformity and just being honest about who they are?

It used to be that your brand was your good word, your solid reputation, the way that people felt when they shook your hand and your code of conduct when you enter into a business deal. But it is not like that anymore. Or is it?

Personally, I am sick of polishing and packaging run amuck. For me, authenticity is more powerful than sound bites; candid contribution more genuine than sanitized conversation; sincerely held but unpopular views more in demand than careful messaging that conveys little. And then there is just the comfort and confidence that comes with being yourself - even if, or perhaps, especially if - it is just plain silly.

Rizbollo. The word may mean nothing to you. It comes from an irritating debacle with closing a bank account which concluded with my name being misspelled on a 50 cent cheque as 'Emad Rizbollo.' I have since used this silly fumble - Rizbollo - for a variety of very serious purposes including the name of my holding company. So it seemed like a perfect choice when I picked my twitter handle. Recently, a new hire at Bluedrop questioned the seemingly bizarre name. I briefly considered doing the grown-up CEO thing and changing it to something "professional" and "searchable". But after some reflection, I decided to keep it. There were actually several serious reasons to keep such a silly name.

I think the pressure to conform is one of the most misguided forces in businesses. This pressure comes both from within and without, yet the single most valuable asset in business is actually authenticity.

Haven't we all had enough of sanitized, inauthentic, mass packaged brands? Investors, customers, new employees... they glaze over obligingly when they see it. In a world of social media bombardment and infinitesimally small attention spans, I think the only thing that breaks through the fog is authenticity.

There is a difference between being serious about your work, and taking yourself too seriously.

I sincerely believe that at Bluedrop the majority of our people strive very hard for excellence. We hold tremendous respect for our clients and the people they serve. We know our work is important. But that does not mean we are brimming with self-importance. We are not brands, logos, hash tags or mission statements. We are people, passion, dreams and ideals.

At Bluedrop we come from all over the globe, and still we are color, gender, religion, age, orientation, and creed - blind. Diversity is not something we emphasize - it merely exists. I really believe that it is no more ponderous than contemplating your own DNA. We make fun of each other in happy oblivion. We are defiant. We are competitive. We are free to be wrong. We are real. And that is wonderful because it allows me to sometimes become the "Clown in Chief."

Hierarchy and status don't get much attention at Bluedrop either, my assistant knows not to look for me in my ivory tower office. Instead she will find me brainstorming with staff from the edge of a desk or in the office kitchen, getting serious work done in a culture of comfort.

I always find myself drawn to people, like myself, who don't take themselves too seriously. That is why many of the people I work closely with have a ridiculous self-deprecating sense of humor.

@Rizbollo is a fitting Twitter handle to sum up this contrast - very serious work done by people who don't take themselves too seriously.

So if you are a leader seeking experts to tell you who you should be and what your corporate culture should be... step back and ask yourself... who am I and where do I want to work... and just start by being you.

Engaging in the trap of manufactured identity could ultimately leave you feeling like you have applied cheap makeup to your corporate soul.