Authenticity and Reinvention Aren’t Adversaries: A New View on Change

I’m taking an online course by Daniel Burrus, “one of the World’s Leading Futurist Speakers on Global Trends and Innovation” to hone my skills on being an anticipatory leader. In addition to expanding my repertoire of thinking about and trying to enact the future that I’d like to create for myself and my business, I love the questions that he poses in each video. They’re the kinds of questions that take me out of my “auto-answer” mode and place me in my reflection zone. That’s my inner space where I must pause and think because I’m hearing a new question, or a question phrased with greater nuance, although I’ve heard it asked before. And what’s better than a question that stops you in your tracks and makes you say, “I haven’t thought of that before?” Those are the questions that have the potential to lead to new insights that generate change. Here’s one question that I’m mulling over and asking you to think about with me:

How do we reinvent ourselves and remain authentic? How do we make the kind of changes that don’t inadvertently suppress those parts of ourselves that are essential to our identity? By “essential,” I mean something that if we no longer had (a value, belief, behavior that we and others recognize as integral to ourselves), we wouldn’t be the same people. This is a good pre-Rosh ha-Shanah question because while we might have heard some version of it, it’s a central question to help us prepare for the holidays and the transformation to which they can lead us.

There was one unit in this course on “reinvention and redefinition” that triggered this question in which Burrus explains that if we don’t take the initiative to reinvent and redefine how we do business, someone else will. If we hope to thrive in the future, we must chart the course that allows us to do so. Or, to think of it another way, we won’t own the history of our future unless we try to actively anticipate and influence it. And reinvention can’t just be a small tweak or new twist, but a transformation, meaning that it’s a change that leads to a point of no return because it’s far superior to what exists. One example that Burrus cites is smartphones. He asks if anybody believes that people will return to using dumb phones, especially because our smartphones are becoming increasingly more intelligent (these are paraphrases and not direct quotations).

This question of the relationship between reinvention and authenticity applies to individuals, to communities and to organizations. Is this relationship between authenticity and reinvention one that is in conflict, causing us to “pick a side?” Is it one that will always be irreconcilable but generate a creative tension? Or, can we imagine an Option Three answer, in which authenticity and reinvention are not adversarial values? Here’s my beginning of an Option Three response: in light of today’s accelerating changes that are increasing in velocity, maybe we need to redefine “authentic” to mean that we must always be in a process of change and reinvention: personally, communally, and organizationally. Authenticity = continuous openness to reinvention.

Yesterday morning, I experienced how authenticity and reinvention could be mutually supporting stances toward the world and not adversaries when my wife and I were walking down one of our favorite streets in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), Rechov Yoel Solomon. Yoel Solomon is an artsy street where you can find music, contemporary and hipster art with an edge, ceramics, and good food. It’s also a dangerous street if you don’t set a budget or aren’t disciplined enough simply to enjoy its aesthetics. Yesterday morning, we crossed slightly into the danger zone when we visited one store that we like and visit frequently. But this time, the artist/owner happened to be there. She spoke about her quest to always pay attention to possibilities for new materials to incorporate into her art-making. She has been working at her craft for decades and was not content to tweak her familiar work but to create in new kinds of media. She then showed us a few pieces of new work that she had been experimenting with and they looked like a different artist had made them. But the authentic thread connecting her old and new work was her continuous desire to experiment. The new work was as much of an expression of her authentic self as her prior work because her essential values hadn’t changed, they had only expressed themselves differently over time.

On a broader level, what would happen if our Jewish community volunteer and professional leaders cultivated a mindset that equated authenticity with reinvention, identified core values, and were open to piloting new expressions of those core values? I know that this sounds easier said than done, but I also know that it is much easier to do today than it used to be. How the relationship between authenticity and reinvention is expressed will differ based on mission, budget, and resources, but many organizations still operate in silos and limit the creativity of employees or volunteers. Build the bridges across the silos and you’ll have a much better chance of fostering authenticity through reinvention.

Translating the Hebrew value concept of teshuvah with a word like repentance narrows the scope of its original meaning. Teshuvah means both a return to authenticity and a new response that breaks unhealthy patterns that restrains our renewal. How we do so will vary, but it could be our Option Three. What do you think?

Wishing you and your loved ones a shanah tovah, a year of authentic reinvention.

About the Author
Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is a national thought leader, organizational consultant and author on the American Jewish community with a specialty in synagogue life. He is President & CEO of the Herring Consulting Network.
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