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Can companies be authentic?

Harvard Business Review this month is running a “case study” (pure fiction) I wrote about whether companies can and should be authentic. The case study is intended to be even-handed in its presentation; it’s followed by expert commentary. They’ve posted the case on their Web site and have opened it up to readers for discussion. There’s also a video of Julia Kirby (one of the editors) interviewing me on the topic, on that same page. FWIW, I am not at all convinced that the term “authenticity” is helpful — or maybe even meaningful — when applied to business.

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4 Responses to “Can companies be authentic?”

  1. […] Can Companies Be Authentic? – David Weinberger has his doubts. […]

  2. David, I enjoyed your writing. I wonder if any group can be authentic. Can there be authentic racists? Catholics? women?

    I would argue that only independent thinkers can be authentic because they are themselves. And they are also the same inside, as much as I have seen.

    In Kenya, I have organized quite a command structure with 100 independent peacemakers. We have embraced the Kalenjin tribe, escorted the residents of Nakuru, opened the road at Naivasha, unlocked the Molo region, reached out to the Mungiki demonstrators.

    Now I am thinking to apply this same structure to engage corporations. I am thinking of having a Moral Index (like the Dow Jones Index) made up of the companies that are most worthwhile to investigate in terms of making meaningful use of our own time. Which is to say, companies that it would be meaningful to partner with, whether or not they are good or bad. I want us to be their cooperative adversary (much like a labor union). For example, if the company is good to us, then we ask the government to lower their taxes, but if the company is bad to us, then we ask the government to raise their taxes. The idea is to embrace the company’s stakeholders – employees, managers, shareholders, customers – as independent thinkers and represent them. We seize “moral control” of the company. The more we scrutinize the company, the more accurate it’s share price will be, and the more it will focus on the long term fundamentals. And the more accurate it’s share price is, the more useful it is for investors, and so it will attract investments and it’s share price will go up. So I think that we can get the company and the shareholders to pay modestly for our services.

    Is this a way of doing Cluetrain?

  3. […] Hat tip: David Weinberger […]

  4. “I am not at all convinced that the term authenticity’ is helpful — or maybe even meaningful — when applied to business.”

    Thanks for the thought experiment David. And fwiw, I’m convinced that it’s not! :)

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