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Do, and Appear to Do — the Necessity of Mastering Appearance

Photo by Maksym Pozniak-Haraburda on Unsplash

It's easy to argue that we're uniquely positioned, right now, to prioritize appearances over reality.

Our technology-rich world serves up endless sound bites and click bait articles designed to influence our perception. 

Understanding this, those seeking influence work on mastering the art of appearance  They become PR practitioners, surround themselves with appearance-savvy communicators, and churn out endless consumable content.

Some have learned that it's entirely possible to shape a narrative that has little to do with objective reality.  That narrative, repeated by believers, and amplified by likes, shares and upvotes, can put the object of the narrative onto a pedestal, or turn them into a pariah.  Either way, the outcome is entirely undeserved.

This isn't a modern problem.  Modern communications technology can reach more people, faster but the elements of human nature behind the message haven't changed.  Ever.

It's a perception problem.

Doing is not enough

Things don’t pass for what they are, but for what they seem.  To be of value and to know how to show this is to be doubly valuable.  It’s as if what isn’t seen doesn’t exist.  Reason itself isn’t venerated when it lacks any semblance of reason. 

The deceived are far more numerous than the alert; deceit is rife and things are only judged by their exterior.  There are things that are very different from how they appear.  A good exterior is the best recommendation of a perfect interior.

— Baltasar Gracián, The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, published 1647

If you're good, you need to show you're good

There are companies (and people) who can look good, at least for a while.  Appearance, without reality, will eventually come crashing down. 

There are also companies and people who are good — even great — who have mastered their craft.  But reality, without appearance, will never even get off the ground.

It's imperative that you're valuable and know how to show that you are valuable.  Both require mastery.  It's a business lesson for CEOs and a promotional lesson for individuals, who are being overlooked for promotion, and recognition.

For technology companies, messaging can be a particular challenge

The specific skills that allow you to develop incredibly smart technology, and your proximity to your own solution, can make it incredibly difficult to condense all of your potential into clear, concise and compelling statements.

Internal disagreement about the points to highlight, coupled with confusing and contradictory customer feedback, leave leadership teams uncertain. 

So, you talk about all the things your product can do.  

That makes it worse.  Now, you're including so much information that everyone is confused.  You're getting specific about features, while customers are looking for value.  You're making it too hard for them to figure out how to use you, so the easiest answer is no.

When that happens, it's because you're not showing what you can do.

Appearance matters

When you're in pursuit of your next wave of customers, your next level of revenue, your next series of funding, and you feel tempted to economize on a word smith, a designer, a web developer — heed some advice that's as sound today as when it was delivered 376 years ago: A good exterior is the best recommendation of a perfect interior.