Lessons From The Backside: Why Hidden Beauty Matters


If you’re reading this on an iPhone, iPod touch, iPad or other Apple product, take a minute to look at the back of your device. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. What did you notice? Chances are you noticed that it was sleek, simple yet sophisticated – in other words, it looked and felt like an Apple product, even from behind. That’s no accident. The late Steve Jobs was taught by his father, Paul, that when you make something, you need to make sure that the back is as beautiful as the front, even if nobody sees it.

Before you get nervous, let me assure you: this article is not about how you look from behind. That’s too personal even for me, and besides, if I judge your tuchas, you get to judge mine! What does strike me is that unlike Steve Jobs, many of us spend too much time and energy creating a public face that doesn’t match our insides. I see this in our personal lives, in our families and in our organizations. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with putting our game faces on occasionally, there is something misleading and disingenuous about doing this all the time.

How often do we forget that the “what you get” is every bit as, if not more, important than the “what you see”? How many times do we settle for something looking good on the outside to our friends, family members, colleagues, customers and communities that doesn’t look or feel as good on the inside? I remember laughing at former Saturday Night Live star (and renewed Oscars host) Billy Crystal’s hilarious imitation of actor Fernando Lamas, who quipped, “It’s better to look good than to feel good!” It’s funny, for sure – but it shouldn’t feel true.

If you work for an organization that attends to (paying) external customers, clients or members with warmth and respect, but neglects the emotional, functional and financial needs of its staff, then you know what I’m talking about. If you are in a marriage that looks good to your family and friends, but is robbing you of your dignity or sense of self, you know what I’m talking about. If you showcase the trappings of a lavish lifestyle, but you are privately battling credit card debt, you know what I am talking about. And you also know that none of this feels good on the inside, not matter how good it looks from the outside.

Three years ago in my own business as a coach and speaker, I came up against this very challenge. I began to get client requests for video Skype conferencing sessions for one-on-one coaching, or for staff workshops. I resisted at first, telling myself that the phone was good enough for coaching, and that staff training should really be done in person. But I knew that neither of those was the real reason: in actuality, my office was such a mess that I was embarrassed for people to see it, even over video. While it wasn’t something you’d see on an episode of Hoarders, it was cluttered enough that I knew my clients could be justified in thinking, “how can she help me get my own life in order when she can’t get her office in order?” Over the phone, I sound very tidy. When I come to people’s businesses to lead workshops, I appear quite put together. That’s the front. From another angle, however, my office belied my professionalism, my “togetherness”. I knew that I owed it both to my clients and to myself to make my private space align with my public persona. So, with a lot of help from professional organizers Oksana Bellas and Juliann Decker (yes, I was so overwhelmed that I needed not one but two gurus), I got my inner world to match my outer sheen. It made finding my files easier, certainly, but it also made believing in myself easier as well.

Like Steve Jobs and my professional organizing team, the Magen Tzedek Commission aims to align the quality of inner practices with outer packaging. Wait, you’ve heard of Magen David (Shield of David), but not Magen Tzedek (Shield of Justice)? In brief, according to Magentzedek.org, the Commisson was formed in 2008 by Conservative movement leaders to develop and apply a set of standards that would certify that kosher food had been produced in a way that was “consistent with the Jewish tradition of justice and ethics.” A traditional hecksher (kosher certification) was no longer enough, because the stamp on the outside of a package of meat or baked goods was often masking a seedy underbelly where fair and ethical labor practices, animal welfare, environmental impact, consumer rights and corporate integrity were being violated. The inside process of producing, packaging and selling kosher food has to be kosher enough to match the seal of approval on the outside.

While it was critical for Jobs to bring his father’s lesson to fruition – that the hidden beauty of the back matters as much as the obvious assets of the front – it’s clear that what matters to those of us who are users of products and services is that the insides (functionality) are as consistent and dependable as the outsides. My memory of the months following the iPad launch is that the new tablet started as the “cool tool” to have, but it stuck and spread because it was more than a hip-looking accessory – the iPad was incredibly fun and functional. Would you stand for a product that looked enchanting but didn’t function reliably? Of course you wouldn’t – and chances are, you’ve bought something like that at least once in your life and promptly returned it when your product or service revealed that its delight was only skin deep.

Steve Jobs will go down in history as one of the most accomplished innovators of all time, and there’s little doubt that his rigorous attention to detail and design from all angles (including the backside) contributed to his, and to Apple’s, success. What should drive our own success, personally, professionally and communally, is the same scrupulous commitment to making sure that what we present to the world has tachlis – substance, value – and not just a twinkle.

What about you? In your personal relationships and business practices, are you sure that your backside as presentable as your front? Does your outer appearance mask an inside mess? Do you have something you’re feverishly trying to hide?

If so, what will you do to look and feel good from every angle?