Authentic Creativity vs. Creative Authenticity – Revisited

Although I originally posted this 2 years ago, I thought I would re-post it.

I have been speaking with a lot of senior bankers especially over the last months. The culture within banks is being ruled by regulatory over-demands, ever-increasing compliance complexities, not to mention the cost-cutting measures that are beginning to cut through the meat and into the flesh of many financial service firms.

Spending a lot of time with executives these days talking about their corporate and personal challenges, I see some paradigms in their thought life and, for some, in their behavior: First, all of the executives with whom I have spoken in the last weeks acknowledged that they are tired, overwhelmed, feeling stretched, having a hard time coping, running out of answers and struggling to make decisions. Not all in that order, but I think you get the picture… Second, none of the executives I spoke with expects this to change anytime soon. In fact, one who said he had not had one Saturday off since December, declined my invitation to an event because “I just have to sleep… and see my kids sometime …” He was particularly dejected. Third, all of the executives I spoke with are both creative and authentic – the former to various degrees, the latter consistently so. You can’t be “somewhat authentic.” You either are or you aren’t.

But I notice that many men and women are honestly struggling to keep up. Remember the Red Queen effect from Alice in Wonderland: you have to keep running faster and faster, just to keep in the same place. Much less get ahead. It’s like you’re on a treadmill and someone keeps turning up the slope and speed of the machine. In reflection, I note that these authentic women and men, who are striving to give it their best shot, are also declining in their creativity because of the increasing pressure on them.

Many are losing heart and so they begin to bluff their way through. And hence, for many, what was once authentic creativity is slowly but surely becoming creative authenticity.  I once coined the phrase “authentic bullshitting” for this, but have now come to believe it is not that, but rather, sincerely now, creative authenticity. People who once were, are now having to fake it, just to survive. We, as responsible employers, have to catch them, relieve them, even reanimate them them before the speed and slope of the treadmill gets so fast and steep that they fly off.

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