Authenticity Trumps Perfection


Of course I am not better than you—nor are you better than me. Comparing people’s qualities is like questioning whether Einstein is better than Mozart or whether Bill Gates is better than the Dalai Lama: it’s silly. Every individual is a universe unto themselves mostly undiscovered even by them and certainly by others. However, while I am no better than you, what’s mine is better than what’s yours—at least, it’s better for me than what’s yours is, simply because it’s authentically my own.

My granddaughter asked me why an original work of art is more valuable than a reproduction of a perhaps much greater work. I explained that among other things, when a person creates something, that creation contains within it something of the soul of its creator. The artist’s creative force is embedded in their work of art, and this creative force is accessible to an observer who digests it. There is data in a reproduction, but inspiration can be found only in an original, because inspiration comes from creative human energy, not from technology. Hence, the original authentic work of any artist, even if flawed, is worth more than a perfect reproduction of a work, because authenticity trumps perfection.

You see, only synthetic gems are flawless. Natural gems—and any natural organism, including you and me, for that matter—are flawed. Their flaws are what make them interesting, different, and rare. Compensating for and overcoming our flaws—each in our own ways—is what makes us interesting and unique, because authenticity trumps perfection.

You don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to be authentic. Academically, we are trained to read, remember, and quote what others have said about the subjects we study. Often in workshops and lectures when I pose a question to the class, someone answers with a quote he or she has learned. I have to gently redirect them and say, “If I want to know what others have said, I’ll Google it. I asked the question because I want to know how you think, not what you’ve read and how much you remember.” Your own opinion might not be as perfect as that of the expert you quote, but it is yours and it comes from your heart, from your mind. And remember, authenticity trumps perfection.

The same applies to leadership and to any area of success. It is always good to learn from others, but never imitate others. No matter how successful they have been, what worked for them won’t necessarily work for you. Even something as simple as a diet and exercise regimen that worked for your friend may not be the one that will work for you, because you are different from one another. This is much more so when it comes to the world of ideas, of leadership, and of innovation.

Being authentic also means knowing that your opinions, services, or products aren’t going to be adopted by everyone universally. If you are authentic, those who resonate with your values and admire your purpose will adore what you do and adopt it passionately. Others may not. And that is not only okay, it is also the hallmark of your authenticity. Nearly all my work with leaders and with organizations around the world over the past 30 years is grounded in helping them to discover their deepest, most authentic inner beings from which to build their work, their organizations, and their products. Artists know this intuitively. Businesspeople usually don’t.

To be valuable, we don’t need to imitate other valuable people. We don’t need to be as good as, as great as, as smart as… We just need to be ourselves: self-authored, unique, flawed and limited—but authentic.