Authenticity at Scale

Heath Ledger as Joker in The Dark Knight sitting in jail

This is written in conjunction with Crisis at Scale. Scale changes things, partly or entirely. Here is one facet to uncover. -scl

BLUF – Conversations on authenticity in professional environments are becoming more common, recognising a need to address inauthenticities in business. The challenge is the degree of misinterpretation fostered, as considering certain factors reveal consistency requiring adjustment depending on scale. The Dark Knight’s Joker will help demonstrate.


Last week I attended a brilliant panel discussion hosted by the Virtual Advisory Board marking their first year anniversary. Toasts aside, I found the discussion of the relative need for authenticity in board dynamics striking. With one exception (who actually made the case for me to write about here), there was no argument in finding authenticity desirable, but there was some debate on what it looks like or how it needs to be incorporated.

As simple as people can seem, understanding where their authenticity stems from is a complex undertaking. No one-size-fits-all authenticity is in play; there are different factors to consider in determining the decision-making parameters for individuals and groups. Whilst interpreting, realise everyone is being authentic – whether they are on the same or proper pitch for the play at hand is where it gets interesting. Perhaps best related to villains: Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight gave a perfectly authentic display of scalable authenticity.

The following are some factors to examine:

  1. Scalable prioritisation – Whether it was robbing the bank, sowing chaos by destroying medical facilities, or crashing a billionaire’s party, Joker’s advantage was singular attention to the current activities. There are many factors competing for foremost attention inside a person. Decisions and actions taken/ recommended generally fall where the person feels the highest priority – be it personal or professional duty bound. Prioritisation also accounts for how the same person can have different positions on the same issue – depending on where the priority lies in relation to the discussion at hand. Joker’s use of crime to fund and otherwise support his activities upsetting the established order shows authentically scalable prioritisation.
  2. Scalable in-group – Separating who fit in Joker’s organisation was fairly simple – the interested parties met and only one left alive. Human nature lends gravitational pull between similar individuals. In-group identification gives potential scale to issues, potentially adjusting how prioritisation happens. On the lower end is family/ team/ friends or other small, close-knit groupings, extending to larger teams/ organisations, then to larger race/ origin country/ language speakers, perhaps even to humanity. The challenge found with in-groups is the requirement for an out-group to work against – why we need enemies. Joker created an enemy of everything that held power, offering a unity of purpose for those working with him.
  3. Representation – How Joker talked to the police was different from how he dealt with organised crime bosses, different from how he talked to the victims or to Batman. In each interaction, he was authentic in the priority and messaging relayed. What was important to or for the group he addressed was different, but the priority and the messaging still represented him. An individual experiencing internal conflict of competing priorities whilst making decisions for a group creates turmoil potentially translating to the individual being perceived as inauthentic by others. As mentioned in some Asian cultures, there are at least three faces relating to public/ private/ true self. It is possible that circumstances misalign them – either with the decision-making group or internally – though this is not inauthentic. Rather, it may be overly authentic. The challenge in developing alignment amongst representation for different groups requires self-reflection, determining how much of each positive/ negative quality will be offered to each context. A person may have truly awful aspects — it may be recognised as adverse in certain company but to be fair, at times they revel in it.

Once there’s understanding where someone starts from, considerations of whether they operate in the required spaces for the task at hand become more relevant. When misalignment is identified, reconciliation may be reached by the individual, the group, or both. Open communication may not lead to ideal re-integration, but it will give greater visibility to addressing limiting factors that could hamper decisions.

Duplicity requires time and effort rarely afforded within decision-making bodies, although effort may be present to mask where one’s priorities lie. Conflicting priorities and scales often give a resonance and interpretation of inauthenticity to the outside observer. When identified, one should understand the individual is not inauthentic, rather that the values don’t align – which can provide greater clarity in determining response options.

I don’t advocate the Joker’s means or ends. I do recognise his authentically scaled unity of purpose.


3 thoughts on “Authenticity at Scale

  1. Pingback: On Challenging Rationality – Maelstrom Advantage

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  3. Pingback: On Dangers of Standing Alone – Maelstrom Advantage

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