When you forge a friendship with someone, what process takes place? Do you observe that person closely? Do you take meticulous note of how they behave and make calculations about what they require in a relationship? Do you then try to style your speech and appearance into some semblance of that? Is it just me, or does that sound creepy? It seems to me that trying to be something you’re not is a good way to create a relationship founded on mistrust.

So why do so many companies take this sociopathic route with their customers? Why do we spend millions trying to get into the mind of the customer and shape our marketing to reflect a mirror image of that customer’s needs, wants and goals? Won’t we end up in the same place? The strongest relationships happen more naturally. They are based on the authentic click that occurs when our truth is magnetically drawn to the corresponding truth of another. It is a metallic connection.

So we need to be authentic, right? Good.

If you ask any company if they think they should be authentic, most would probably answer yes. The problem is that many believe that this means talking the language of the customer. To them it means “real talk”, but authenticity is much deeper than that. To me, being authentic is about knowing oneself rather than knowing one’s customer.

Every company – just like every person – has two stories. There’s the one we tell ourselves and then there’s the real story. The self-told story is what we think to be true about our beliefs, goals and relationships. We want to have a successful career, to circulate within an appropriate social sphere, to marry a person of a certain physical profile, to drive a particular status symbol, to have a specific number of kids.

The problem with our self-told story is that it is clouded. For the person it is warped by your family, your upbringing, your peer group and the media. For the company, it is distorted by shareholders, staff, competitors, sales targets and the economy.

The self-told story often has very little to do with what truly drives us. Deep down, it is at odds with the true nature of the individual. It is the reason many people get divorced, accumulate huge piles of debt and stay in jobs they hate. It’s also the reason many companies have clients they don’t like very much.

This is unfortunate because the real story is 1000 times more powerful than the self-told one. The real story will energise you! It creates a positive feedback loop. If companies were able to express their realness they would strongly attract compatible customers and repel the incompatible ones who will inevitably grow to resent you. This is a net gain leading to better relationships, more success, better staff morale and yes, higher profits.

The problem is that self-honesty is difficult. It’s difficult for people, it’s much more difficult for businesses and it gets exponentially more so, the larger the organisation. Because we’ve spent our lives telling ourselves a different story. It is now encased in buzzwords and enshrined in mission statements. And if we can’t get to the realness, we don’t have a hope of expressing it.

It seems to me that what we should be doing less reflection and more self-reflection.