Authenticity as Inspiration

Beliefnet named Liviu Librescu, the Virginia Tech prof who blocked the door with his own body, as the most inspiring person of the year. Video. (Clipping from The Chronicle)
In Brand Autopsy, a humorous/serious branding blog, John Moore comments on authenticity that

This belief that authenticity can be created is what gets companies in trouble. Authenticity comes from evolution, not from creation. No magic pill exists and no big bang will cause a company to become authentic. The honor of being authentic is earned only over time and through consistent, deliberate actions. Same goes for building a corporate culture. A company that respects its employees and treats its employees like family will be rewarded with being viewed by insiders and outsiders as an authentic company.

How do these topics relate? “Authenticity is not something¬† you can create. It evolves.” A student whose life was saved by Librescu is quoted in the tribute video as saying, (paraphrasing), “What Prof. Librescu did was just a final proof of what he was like as a person.” In other words, Professor Librescu did not inspire anyone with his words. Nor did he inspire anyone with an action that could be separated from a pattern, an ethos, a characer.

For Librescu, his ability to inspire us evolved from his life as a Holocaust survivor, as a person who knew how to carry pain but show love to friends and family, as a person who knew how to recognize evil, and to resist it with actions, not words. One instinctive, adroit action allowed him in the few seconds of crisis to impede the evil — to place his own life in the balance next to his students and give greater weight to those students. He inspired 81% of the respondents (compared to at most 4% for other worthy nominees) because his actions revealed him to be an authenticly good man, who might today be working on in quiet anonimity if it weren’t for the extraordinary circumstances that day at Virginia Tech. Were it not for a madman with a gun, only his students and fellow faculty would recognize his value, because the authenticity of his character would only be manifest by a kind smile for a lonely coed or an early appointment to tutor a struggling student. Too bad we all had to be inspired by his unexpected but authentic, in-character next step of blocking a gunman’s view of his class with his own body.

Thankfully, most colleges can focus their attention on the routine challenges of inspiring their students, instead of frantically trying to save their lives. But may we focus on inspirational actions rather than inspirational words.

The whole business of brands, perceptions, image and identity follow this principle: that the brand is in reality just the expression of what is. The brand of an institution flows from 10,000 choices by faculty, administration, trustees, alumni — across an institutional lifetime. And the sum of those choices is not so much a measure of absolute virtue as it is a definition of the personality of that college community. It’s what makes a Harvey Mudd different from an MIT … an Oberlin different from a Whitman. Each brand is authentic, if what it claims in words is the same as what it delivers in fact; and as with Librescu, the stresses of the current moment will merely reveal what is already there, in the character and the values and the heart.

When a man or an institution acts in a way that is authentically good … it’s an inspiration to us all.

No Responses to Authenticity as Inspiration
  1. Lia Stelea
    December 13, 2007 | 3:40 pm

    I find a little bit strange to see the name of Librescu next to tags as branding and marketing. The subject IS quite interesting and thought-provoking.
    I had my share of thinking on the subject of branding. I believe it’s a modern-day obsession.
    I didn’t know Dr. Librescu in his life. But I know some of my professors, who are great teachers, great specialists, great friends and mentors… who could, and did put themselves into danger to save someone else.
    And they’re totally out of the branding scheme.

  2. orkthecaveman
    December 13, 2007 | 6:21 pm

    You are so right. I did not have the pleasure of knowing him either but I’m sure he was not about branding or advertising at all… just authenticity.
    In tomorrow’s post I’ll be sharing another marketing guy, John Moore’s thoughts on how Starbucks spent its energy building a corporate culture, not worrying about a brand. Same point: character is what makes a person or a company worth knowing/doing business with. The brand is simply what people expect to gain from the relationship.

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