A Few Things About Communication: 5. Make Reality Perception
In politics, celebrity, the greenwashing business and the beauty industry, there is a religion based on the notion that perception is reality – that if an individual or an organization appears as something – and is perceived that way – then that perception becomes the truth. In essence, it’s a belief that how we look, and what we say is more important than who we are and what we do. Perception is reality is the story people tell themselves about themselves often enough that they believe it.
This is the religion of celebrity, consumption and denial. On the surface, it’s a prettier reality than the one we live in day to day. It allows us to believe the man in the nice suit who tells us that Exxon is a caring guardian of our future because natural gas is the answer to all our energy problems (ignoring the hideous death and destruction fracking causes), that tuna is the wonder food and we should eat more of it (ignoring the fact that we have rolled in rice and practically wiped out one of the most magnificent creatures in the ocean), that congressmen make laws that benefit the people of this country (ignoring reality entirely), that Pepsi actually cares about the health of humans (ignoring the role they play in ...you get the point). Deception on the part of the deceiver, denial on the part of the perceiver, a relationship of mutuality.
But not so simple, and not so clear. First of all, an element of what is projected is almost always based in truth, no matter how small or illusive. And second, it isn’t always bad, when you consider these examples in nature: Crows and ravens “lie” about where they hide their cache – pretending to store food if another crow is watching, then moving it or hiding it for real when they’re alone. Some frogs disguise themselves as poisonous to avoid predators, and other creatures have mastered the art of masquerading as turds so they won’t be eaten. The difference is that in nature, the deceivers don’t believe their own deceptions.
SO WHAT'S THIS GOT TO DO WITH BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR?
I have switched “perception is reality” to “make reality perception” for a very practical reason.
Entrepreneurs are critical to our future – not only because you create new businesses, jobs and new ideas, but also because you get a fresh start on truth. You get a conscious choice to NOT create a life of deception and denial. You have the opportunity to reinstate and revere the truth so that we can act on it together to make it beautiful again. You get to make all your decisions based on their real consequences – not only for yourself but for all the people and creatures you touch and for the planet.
Most established companies can’t come clean without self-destructing. Pepsi (not to pick on them, but hey, sometimes the truth hurts) can support all the socially innovative ideas it wants, but it can’t tell the truth about the toll its manufacturing processes take on the environment, or what damage its products cause to consumers’ health, or how coldly its marketing strategy aims to get kids to drink sugar. It has to rely on deception – of itself and others – if it wants to survive.
But entrepreneurs don’t, and that’s why I love you. You have all your decisions in front of you, and the truth is yours to tell.
SOME TRUTHS TO BE LEARNED FROM THE BIG DECEIVERS
First, find your truth and own it, because everything about the rest of life will try to
confuse you. Meditate. Sit with yourself and make sure you’re in touch with your true purpose, not simply aware of all the things you think you’re supposed to think and do and care about. Consider your ego, and the role it plays on your world view and ability to make decisions. According to the Talmud, “We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are”.
Think too about your goals and their unintended consequences. Make sure you are ready to take responsibility for them, and to be transparent about them.
Lying is more expensive than telling the truth. Making up a story is costly. You have to remember it over time, train others to tell it, keep reminding them about it, work harder to convince them and continue to keep the curtain closed. That all adds up to a lot of energy, time and money that can be invested in more productive ways.
Only the truth is sustainable. I mean this in both definitions of that word. Deception never lasts. Just ask Bernie Madoff or the former governor of California. Besides, when people lie, they tend to lie to appear like somebody or something else – either a standard of normal or an accepted definition of super-normal. For that reason, they are never really unique. The truth is always more distinguishing, more interesting, and far less destructive to the really important things in life, like relationships.
Have nothing to hide. Ensure that everyone in your company and everyone who represents you is armed with the truth and emboldened to tell it. It’s the only way to tell a consistent story.
Spend 95% of your time making your reality as impressive as it can be, and 5% of your time talking about it. Instead of thinking about what to say first, think about what to do – saying it will be a hundred times easier. Your marketing costs will be cut in half if you have something truly exciting to say, and in half again if people experience it the same way you promise they will. Think of it as truth-telling instead of marketing.
As an entrepreneur, you are creating a story that just might be one of the most important stories the world has ever heard. Fiction has a place in art, but not in business.