Transparency and radical transparency

Chris Anderson is picking up a new theme — radical transparency.

Perhaps the most interesting of these is the shift from secrecy to transparency. The default communications mode of companies has traditionally been top-down, with only executives and official spokespeople permitted to discuss company business in public. The standard rule, explicit or not, was “That which we choose not to announce is not to be spoken about.” Aside from some special exemptions, such as conferences where those employees trusted enough to go chatted guardedly with outsiders, employees were cautioned that what happened at work should stay at work. Loose lips sink ships, etc.

But over the past few years, a new breed of executive has emerged, and with them a new attitude toward controlling the corporate narrative. From Microsoft to Yahoo!, the public face of the company is increasingly employee bloggers who are trusted both internally (allowed to blog without legal or PR review) and externally (they’re just regular folk like us!). The consequence is that much that was once hidden is now open for all. These rarely include big disclosures (the real secrets stay secret), but instead tend to be about routine issues that dominate the day-to-day life of engineers and project managers. The small cost of some competitor getting early wind of a new feature is more than outweighed by the good will generated among customers by candid insights into product development. So far, so Naked Conversations.

What really interests me, however, is when this goes even further. Not just transparency, but Radical Transparency. The whole product development process laid bare, and opened to customer input. Management in public, via blog. CEOs venting, without benefit of legal counsel, in late-night postings.

I’d like to think that I’ve always been a pretty honest guy, but starting in about 2002, when I started blogging, I really took up the torch of transparency. I make a conscience effort in all aspects of my life to be as open and honest as I can be, and even in a place as public as my blog. That said, it isn’t always easy. After posting something, I I sometimes question whether I should “give that much away” about my thinking or plans. And there are also certain restrictions that I’m under that have nothing to do with my present employer, but still limit what I can say (even without a signed piece of paper, for example, I feel it’s not my place to reveal things I might know about, say, Scripps). I also have to be careful what I write when posting it might be detrimental to a former co-worker or friend. Transparency isn’t easy, but I still think it’s necessary. One of the benefits for me has been, however, that by sharing so many of my thoughts, I often get challenged by very smart people. That makes me smarter. That, I think, is a good thing.

Am I radically transparent? You tell me.

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  • http://www.howardowens.com/2006/1223/ howardowens.com: media blog » Blog Archive »

    [...] In a post about radical transparency (a topic I previously touched on), Jeff Jarvis writes: Believe it or not, I almost think that last one may go too far. There is still a role for authorial responsibility. That doesn’t mean control — yes, by all means, show us the corrections and suggestions, but then do the work to verify and edit. [...]