Integrity is dead! Long live integrity!

September 13th, 2018

 

About 4,600 million years ago, during the Precambrian Eon, enormous temperatures and pressures 90 miles below the surface of the Earth created diamonds. At roughly the same time, I finally finished with University for good and started working. One of the first things I was involved in was a rebrand for a very famous diamond company. I almost never talk about this project because I’ve found the more you look into the diamond industry the more you realise it defies the structure of the universe as we understand it, belonging more to the mythical world of dragons, elves and unicorns, but I’m talking about it today because there, in the creative brief for this project, first in the list of brand values was the word INTEGRITY. Oh, how we laughed! All of us, newbies and dinosaurs alike – we all found the use of this word audacious and, here’s the amazing thing, unprecedented. How could integrity be a brand value? And how could it possibly be translated through design? How very silly, we thought!

Fast forward to today and that memory makes me laugh differently – now I’d be hard pressed to find a business that doesn’t want its brand to scream integrity above all else.

With so much shared integrity around you’d think we’d be skipping about in some kind of Elysian utopia, interacting safely and joyfully with all the other things on the planet, but, if we discount David Icke and Tom Cruise, I think it’s safe to say that mostly, we’re not.

Something has gone horribly wrong with integrity.

And yet despite this disconnection, the desire to lead with the very genuine, authentic idea of integrity still abounds. Feeling spinny? Yes, me too.

It’s to avoid permanent dizziness that I have now banned integrity as a brand value for our clients. Yes, you did read that correctly – in an effort to create more integrity I’ve banned it. It didn’t belong in the selection box for brand values all those millions of years ago (it was put there by a unicorn from a fantasy world for Pete’s sake) and it still doesn’t today.

Right about now, you will probably be wondering what integrity really means anyway. Collin in his 1995 Cobuild reworking of the Dr Johnson epic ‘The Dictionary’ tell us this: ‘You have integrity if you are honest and firm in your moral principles’.

Gosh! Morals and business! Can you feel the darkness and uncertainty descending around us? To help shine a beacon of sense into this murky miasma, let’s refer to another creator of fabulous mythology C. S. Lewis, who is credited with saying ‘Integrity is doing the right thing. Even when no-one is watching.’ This I think is key, brand values are to be nailed to the mast, but integrity at its very essence is about a quiet and deeply honest communication with the very fibre of things. If we, as people, or workers, or business owners, or company CEOs want to show the world our integrity we should just behave and act with it and stop thinking it can be magically signified in some other way. We can share stories about the ‘right things done’, stories that can build an associated congenial and warm fuzzy feeling that may happily benefit our public image, but the intention should be that we expect no congratulations or even recognition. This is real integrity at work – and it’s worth more than an Eon of diamonds.

 

  1. I think this is really interesting. It’s very popular nowadays as a brand to “back” a moral cause in order to chase millennials and their monzo cards, but I think it’s a really fine line. Nike, for example, have absolutely nailed it recently but other brands have completely flopped (think back to Pepsi and the police brutality situation in the US – disaster). I think if integrity is indeed impossible, authenticity is potentially a brand’s best bet.

    by: Eryl Bradley on 14th September 2018 at 11:03 am

     

    • Great additional insight Eryl! I am actually a huge believer that CSR really is the best form of advertising, but it can’t be fake – a brand can’t buy a conscience and that’s where the playing field narrows to a tiny strip. I’m wondering if your ‘fine line’ is really a binary line? Either you really mean it all the way through the business, like the words in the middle of a stick of rock, or not. But authenticity is open to all, if you’re prepared to own what you really are. Yes?

      by: shaell on 14th September 2018 at 11:26 am

       

  2. This is brilliantly written. I’m with CS Lewis. Looking at businesses. It is a tiny step to shout about your integrity. It is a bigger step to identify what would show your integrity and then to tick boxes to prove you’ve done those things. The next level is behaving with integrity in those situations where there are no tick boxes and no-one is looking (CS Lewis integrity). The real test, however, is what you do when you think that an act of integrity is not commercially beneficial. Do you choose integrity or commercial benefit? The final step for me is how you set up the behaviour of your whole company i.e. whether you reward your staff for acting with integrity over doing what is commecially beneficial when they have to choose.

    by: Ann Rappaport on 27th October 2018 at 1:36 pm

     


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