If you pay attention to the media, you’re probably aware there’s a public conversation happening right now about vulnerability. University of Houston researcher Brene Brown kicked it off with her famous TED talk years ago.
According to Brown, when we hide our vulnerabilities, we work against our motivation to do interesting and innovative things. She says vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, trust and engagement. That imperfections are not inadequacies. Instead, they’re reminders that we’re all in this together.
Vulnerability in business
There’s an old-school business myth that’s starting to fade away: To be in business, you can’t be vulnerable or show weakness. With this in mind, many companies are starting to understand that showing chinks in their armor won’t necessarily cause doubt in the mind of the consumer. In fact, it can do quite the opposite.
Current perceptions are changing thanks to brave companies and influencers who are pushing vulnerability and authenticity to the forefront. These businesses and professionals aren’t afraid to let down their guard and be transparent with their audiences. And they’re finding great success as they do.
Brown says that when we take off the armor that protects us from vulnerability, we open ourselves to experiences that can bring purpose and deeper meaning. In business, being vulnerable can mean taking responsibility for mistakes and admitting that we need help. It has to do with being real and realizing that we don’t always have to be perfect right out of the gate.
Being vulnerable can boost your bottom line
A 2018 Adweek poll found that 58 percent of people perceive vulnerability as authentic. Pulling back the curtain helps consumers identify with companies — it makes them more relatable and, ultimately, more marketable.
Take Zappos, for example. They have a policy of building transparent relationships with their audiences through open and honest communication. Zappos put their words into action by creating an organization called Zappos Insights, which operates tours of company headquarters and live training events. Visitors can even schedule Q&A sessions with different departments while they’re at Zappos. Unlike some businesses, Zappos doesn’t keep their secrets from vendors and the public; they offer complete visibility into their operations.
Influencers are riding the vulnerability wave too. By building platforms around sharing challenges they’re going through, they are amassing entire communities of followers.
Sports broadcaster Michael Landsberg did just this when he talked about his struggles with depression on his show “Off the Record.” He connected so strongly with viewers that he launched a website called sicknotweak.com to help reverse the mental health stigma by declaring, “I am sick, not weak.” Since then his site has gained a large following and created a safe space to speak up. He says the site has enabled him to use one of the worst things that has happened to him to do one of the best things — help others.
What it means to be vulnerable
When you’re vulnerable, you allow yourself to be human. To make mistakes. To be excited and nervous about things at the same time. Truth is, you are not less of a person when you mess up. In fact, you are generally better because of mistakes and the lessons learned from them. Your imperfections have helped get you to where you are today.
Now this doesn’t mean you should do less than your best when it’s expected. It means you should always give projects a full effort but expect and learn from bumps along the way. That’s how we grow. It’s how we make things better.
At the same time, as we appropriately share our imperfections and take off the masks we sometimes hide behind, we make it easier for others to connect with us. Perhaps Brown herself said it best: “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”
Vulnerability in creative industries
As an advertising agency, we at Duft Watterson remind ourselves that we need to push the envelope, to try new things to stay culturally current. It’s no secret that right-brain people can feel incredibly vulnerable when they share their work with others. As a result, fear of failure can cause creatives to stop taking as many risks. To counteract this, companies with creative departments should try to establish an environment where everyone feels safe to share new ideas and challenge conventions.
For the best ideas to rise to the top, creatives should know that making mistakes is part of the process. According to Brown, there is no innovation and creativity without failure. That means creatives need room to experiment and channel greater creativity. They need the freedom to explore different paths without judgement.
Bottom line: be real
Whether in your personal or professional life, look for ways you can be more authentic and welcome imperfection. Being vulnerable can be hard to do, but you’ll be surprised how it connects you with others in ways you never thought possible.