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tearing down the fourth wall

June 26, 2009

in talent


a brief post, to be pursued further when i’m not on vacation and about to be in big-time trouble if i stay on here much longer.

i’ve been mulling over the notion of authenticity in the workplace. there’s a term in theater, tearing down the fourth wall. that’s the “wall” that separates actors from audience. typically, the audience enters into a willing suspension of disbelief. we watch, actively considering the action onstage to be real, and the fourth wall facilitates this. very rarely does the wall come down, letting the audience in on something, but when it does, it’s a moment of calculated authenticity.

public institutions of most sorts don’t really allow for the sharing of our authentic self, though the degree to which this is true varies. like most things, there are positives and negatives to this. the positives are obvious — social systems are greased by our behaving as expected. but the negatives. the negatives keep us from finding a place where we feel welcome, directed, involved, and supported. from a work perspective, the negatives keep us from doing our best work and contributing our finest.

the concept of the fourth wall came to mind while reflecting on recent conversations about the rise of social media, the needs of gen y to z, and the notion of authenticity. we’ve arrived at a time when snarky is out and authenticity in. is it calculated, like those moments in the theater when a character cocks his head, slyly looks at us, and addresses us directly to share a secret? or is this the real deal?

your thoughts?


image: fensterbme

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Eubanks June 26, 2009 at 8:58 am

With all of the legal probs associated with jumping out into social media, I think much of what is said IS calculated. Most of us are representing our companies without a single issue (and the organizations most likely never even know!). It’s the stories about horrible things people are doing online that get all of the press, not the thousands of us who are tweeting, facebooking, etc. without ever making a wave. Thoughts?


fran June 26, 2009 at 7:50 pm

ben, agree! a good point. we love to focus on the outliers and make them the rule.

i was thinking more of the difficulty people have being themselves and being accepted as such within their workplace. we often create a persona that fits into an accepted norm within the workplace. we hide or choose not to show that which may ruffle feathers. with social media tools blurring the line and requesting we share our private face more publicly, plus incoming talent less prone to build a wall between public-private selves, i’m wondering whether this is a “fad” that’s here to stay.


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