After commenters and interviewees on at least three unrelated topics on Radio 4 mentioned the word ‘authenticity’, I found myself quietly wondering why this abstract quality seems to be such a draw for so many of us. And I can’t be the only one to have noticed the ‘authentic’ angle in so many marketing and branding campaigns. I was fairly confident that the quip “if you can fake that, you’ve got it made” was originally uttered (and I’m almost certainly using the word ‘originally’ very loosely there) as a joke about sincerity. With only the Internet to guide me to the source, I quickly came to the conclusion that if the truth is out there, a search engine might not be the best tool for locating it. And that if the truth isn’t authentically slippery, it’s certainly wearing an awful lot of baby oil.
Until I started digging, I’d believed – or perhaps I should say ‘bought into the idea that’ – that the original source was George Burns, whose preceding words were “The secret of acting is sincerity.” The wily folks at The Quote Investigator have been on the case, however, and it seems likely to have been anonymous, and about honesty rather than sincerity – and about success rather than acting. At which point, I had to suppress my inner cynic, who was bouncing up and down vigorously and saying “Ok, so tell me the difference …”
I’ll be honest before I type anything more: this isn’t the most fully-thought through contribution I’ve made to this blog. But the thoughts that are swimming around here have lurked at the margins of several recent posts, particularly those exploring new approaches to working, the nature of our changing relationship with work, and that chestnut du jour – employee engagement. If there’s a single trigger for this half-baked piece, it’s a review by John Lanchester in The Guardian of Michael Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy. Sandel, as Lanchester points out, is no kneejerk anti-marketeer: his primary concerns are morality and justice and – by extension – the moral impact of market-based thinking and behaviour. As Lanchester quotes him, from what he takes pains to point out is neither an angry nor a simplistic book:
The most fateful change that unfolded in the last three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong.”
As the reviewer explains, the book is an assault on the idea that ‘the economic approach to “utility maximisation” explains all human behaviour.’ I’m not about to wax either philosophical (I lack the mental apparatus) nor political (at least not intentionally – this is not the place), but I saw echoes of this pondering the place of marketisation in other recent articles and writing, more directly related to work, employee loyalty and so on – areas that are much more the ‘home turf’ of this blog.