This past weekend, I was in Las Vegas to deliver a presentation. You can’t go to Vegas without adding a little time for play. So, on Sunday I took in my second NHL Vegas Knights hockey game and, with a couple hours to spare, we took a long walk down the Strip enjoying the perfect late afternoon weather. As we strolled along with the variety of humanity filling the sidewalks, it was impossible to miss the massive sign touting grand illusionist David Copperfield’s show at the MGM Grand.
Professionally and commercially, David is a run-away success. Some stats note that he has sold 33 million tickets and grossed over $4 billion noting that is more than any other solo entertainer in history. Now, these statistics are from the internet so they may have their own sense of illusion, but I think you get the picture. In 2015, Forbes noted Copperfield’s annual earnings at $63 million and the 20th highest-earning celebrity in the world. Of course, we also know that the Forbes’ list has been vulnerable to some illusion itself.
The truth is that we are seduced by the lure of illusion.
David Copperfield doesn’t need to misrepresent himself. He tells you the truth – he is an illusionist. He doesn’t misrepresent his work because he knows how much you want to believe what you are seeing. And he is a master at making it easy for you to do so.
It is certainly entertaining. At the same time, it is quite telling. I would suggest our lure of illusion doesn’t stay in Vegas. Unknowing illusionists find stages in every kind of institution – corporations, governments, not-for-profit, education and churches alike. I don’t know about you, but over the years I have found an illusionist looking right at me from my own bathroom mirror.
Many a business book has educated us in some way or another on building our personal brand — intentionally creating an image that in a lot of cases is an illusion. Illusions seem to commercially work. After all, just as David Copperfield. The difference is that Copperfield is truthful about the illusion he creates.
You would think we would be drawn to truth.
Yet, often we avoid it. Maybe because we are afraid of it — or afraid of the consequences of the judgement by others because of it. Or even worse, maybe because we have lost touch with truth while stumbling around drunk on the toxic concoction of illusion. Most often, it isn’t so obvious.
I’ve seen this in subtle ways in my work on personal and organizational core values. It is our addiction to the potential illusion of behaviors. Don’t get me wrong. Behaviors are important – yet they are most effective when presenting themselves simply as an expression of a known truth that resides much deeper within us. When our focus, energy and resources are completely poured into the behavior bucket, illusion is intentionally or unintentionally developed in our midst. It is only a matter of time.
When it comes to institutions, I am becoming convinced that one of our subtle obstacles to discovering core values resides in our fixation on behaviors. This obsession shows-up in various ways of assessment, development and compliance. Obstacles may also reside within our unknown valuing of a default illusion over the truth – and the role that behaviors play to create that illusion.
Sometimes the obstacle to discovering core values isn’t so subtle at all. It is in the refusal to go deeper in the first place. Some would argue that personal values have no place in the work place at all – suggesting that exposing personal values is too invasive. I would suggest that this fear comes from a lack of understanding of the richness that sits in the core of who we are. Likewise, it comes from the confusion (and illusion) created when we let behaviors, wants, needs, opinions and beliefs parade around disguised as core values. When we fully understand the difference, we unleash the endless potential of truth.
Personal core values are a treasure to celebrate and not a liability to hide.
Integrity is built when everything is connected — integrated. When there is a disconnect, fertile ground for illusion is created – whether it is intentional or not. This is true when it comes to our personal integrity as well as the integrity of an organization’s culture. And let’s be clear, we bring our known and unknown personal core values to work and wherever we go — whether you admit it or not.
It is impossible to have integrity in the culture of an organization without the integration of personal core values. Creating organizational culture without both organizational and personal core values is a recipe for institutional illusion. Even worse, it is a waste of the untapped potential.
You might say that integrity and illusion are on opposite ends of the same continuum. David Copperfield has managed to simultaneously live them both by truthfully telling you he is an illusionist. That in itself is a bit of magic.
As always, I’d love for you to share your thoughts below!