Adam Grant, Brene Brown and the world we live in right now

​These spats are what I term a “hoo-hah.”

A few weeks ago, Adam Grant came out and said that “be yourself” is terrible career advice.

His point is that those who self-monitor have more success than those who don’t. By “self-monitor,” he means someone who is “constantly scanning (their) environment for social cues and adjusting accordingly.”

In that article, Grant quotes Brene Brown.

Not long after the article goes live, Brown responds. She says that Grant gives a simplistic representation of her work and what authenticity is. You can read her response by going here.

The central debate is authenticity versus self-monitoring.

At the beginning of Scott Adams’ How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, he lays out six filters for truth

“1. Personal experience (Human perceptions are iffy.)
2. Experience of people you know (Even more unreliable.)
3. Experts (They work for money, not truth.)
4. Scientific studies (Correlation is not causation.)
5. Common sense (A good way to be mistaken with complete confidence.)
6. Pattern recognition (Patterns, coincidence and personal bias look alike.)”

Adams counsels that “when seeking truth, your best bet is to look for confirmation on at least two of the dimensions I listed.”

Applying that idea to the authenticity versus self-monitoring debate, the side I favour is clear. Self-monitoring is a better strategy than authenticity. 

From personal experience, I’ve seen how “being yourself” is ineffectual, and sometimes dangerous. I’ve seen other people put themselves out there and get trampled for it. And common sense tells me that keeping yourself to yourself is the best strategy for success in this world. As does Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power

Also, consider the following phrase, which I picked up from an essay by Paul Graham called What You Can’t Say:

i pensieri stretti & il viso sciolto.” Closed thoughts and an open face.”

That’s a great maxim for conducting yourself in your professional life. Graham goes on to say

​“The trouble with keeping your thoughts secret, though, is that you lose the advantages of discussion. Talking about an idea leads to more ideas. So the optimal plan, if you can manage it, is to have a few trusted friends you can speak openly to. This is not just a way to develop ideas; it’s also a good rule of thumb for choosing friends. The people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know.”

​Yes, in the vast majority of your life, you have to self-monitor. There’s no other way to 1) get ahead and 2) protect yourself. But you should have a few people that you can be open with. Friends that you can in no way offend or feel embarrassed around.

The saddest thing about this all is that I want to agree with Brene Brown. I want to believe that authenticity is the way to get ahead. That being yourself is what it takes. I want to believe that authenticity wins. But right now, in the world we inhabit, it doesn’t.

Yet, as Theodore Parker (not Martin Luther King) first said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

My hope is that the arc of time bends towards authenticity.