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Naked In The Board Room

November 18, 2009

The great thing about social media is that it is an incredibly easy way to stay in touch with people socially, and spread your messages professionally. The dangerous thing about social media is that it is virtually impossible to keep your personal and professional lives separated from each other.

Chip Conley, the founder of Joie de Vivre hotels and author of several books about entrepreneurship, recently wrote a blog post on bNet after getting some flack for posting pictures of himself at Burning Man on Facebook. People responded with comments ranging from “unprofessional” to “sexually hostile.” All of which strikes me as a bit ridiculous. Chip Conley is a pioneer and a damned good businessman, an outspoken advocate of ethical business and I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about the guy. How can a picture of him – whose entire business mojo is based on breaking rules while being joyful and ethical – possibly be bad for business?

This one strikes close to home for me. As a new entrepreneur, I made a lot of mistakes. (Still do.) But the ones that were most costly of time and money had to do with building the wrong team – and a picture of me at Burning Man was the first sign of trouble. I was told that I had to take it down because it sent the wrong message. (I left it up and fired the people who said that. Something that should have happened long before then.)

I continue to speak my mind, and it wouldn’t take a whole lot of effort for anyone to find out that I love Burning Man, I support gay marriage and was raised by a gay father, I think the world would be a better place if people had more sex in the way they really want to, I believe that marijuana should be legal, and I think the two-party political system is pretty much hosed. And you could find all that without access to the pseudo-private world of my Facebook profile, where you’d also be able to find pictures of me dressed as Leeloo for Halloween, and yes, lots of Burning Man photos.

Why am I what people call a “naked blogger,” and why do I encourage others to get a grip? Because it’s honest. And if you ask me, I think that we all need a little more honesty in the world – especially in business. But let me elaborate on that, because too much information isn’t nearly as harmful as not enough.

1. Honesty is the hallmark of a good relationship.

Whether it’s investors or employees or partners, people should know whom they’re working with. Would Oz have been any less magical if people had known, all along, that the Wizard was a short bald man? I think not. Would it have empowered the cowardly lion, the brainless scarecrow and the creaky old tin-man to know that the person they saw as so powerful was, in fact, as flawed as they were? I think so.

2. Knowledge breeds acceptance.

Assuming that you are not doing anything illegal or destructive to society, then you may do the world a lot of good by being open and honest. Remember when black people were feared and segregated? Well, someone bothered getting to know black people and realized there was nothing to fear. Same with gay people. We are a diverse breed and a diverse population, the more open we are about that, the more comfortable we will become in the knowledge that words like, “good,” “smart,” and “successful” come in lots of shapes and sizes.

3. It’s a great vetting tool.
If a potential investor or employee is opposed to or afraid of something that you do then you should not be working with them. It will become a noose and hold you down. I promise. You have way too many real tasks involved in your startup, the last thing you need to do is worry about relationships with people who do not support or understand you. Does it make it a little harder? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.

4. The laws of attraction are powerful.

You may be surprised how many people will actually be more inclined to support you out of affinity for the things you do and represent. That’s why things like the GBSA exist, and Burners do business with other Burners and…… There is also tremendous strength and attraction in being strong and having courage in your convictions. When people are looking for leaders, they rarely look for that equivocating guy who just goes along with the crowd and never says what he’s feeling.

5. You’re less of a freak than you think.

Whether its Burning Man or Lacrosse, being openly gay or openly opposing animal cruelty, you are not alone. If you read the comments on Chip Conley’s blog post, you’ll see countless people who supported and thanked him. Ironically, the Burning Man photo that I posted that freaked people out was taken while JUST CAUSE was trying to raise angel money, and they were afraid it would lessen our odds.  However, I had actually run into half the angel investors in Seattle at Burning Man – and some of those guys look great in tutus.

6. It’s always better to be out in front of a “controversy” than trying to explain it later.
Whatever it is you do, if you’re doing it with other human beings, people are going to find out. Someone else will mention it, post a picture of it or something. It’s way better to just be consistently honest about who you are and what you do so that you don’t have to explain it to people later. If you have somehow let people believe that you are one thing, while doing another, you’re gonna be screwed. There are lots of reasons not to do that, but dealing with pissed investors, employees and customers is enough of a reason. Scandals only grow in closets.

7. You are your brand.
You need to be a strong and consistent brand. You need to have brand integrity. Remember when Nike, a brand dedicated to health and fitness, was shown to support child labor in their international factories? That didn’t go well for them. You are no different.  You cannot say you are one thing while doing something different.

If you are still suffering from the delusion that everyone should like you, or that there’s something you can do to make everyone like you, let me end that for you. Everyone does not like you. Everyone will not like you.

Frankly, if someone is afraid of you because you go to Burning Man, or finds a photo of you in a tutu to be sexually hostile, that says more about them than you. Fear and bigotry are the hallmarks of narrow minds and inexperience. Refer to point #2 and help them get a grip.

As a business leader, your job is to get your product to market and grow your company. As a human being, your job is to be kind, honest and ethical. As a member of society, your job is to support your community and the people in it. Not only should you treat others as you wish to be treated, you should treat yourself as you wish people would treat you. If you do that, you will be happier. If you are happier, you will be a better member of society, human being and business leader. You will make it possible for others to be as well.

Be true to yourself and the people in your world. And let others do the same.
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This post originally appeared on Seattle20.com, where you will find several great bloggers who are write by, for, about and from the Seattle startup community.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 23, 2010 4:52 am

    Like your blog and your outlook… thanks for speaking this… very relevant/synchronistic for me to be reading it at this point in my business and social activism activities…

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