Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

See-through top

This month's cover of Wired declares that "radical transparency" is the future of business. (It probably wasn't just an excuse to put a naked Jenna Fischer of Office fame on the cover, either.) In a world of democratized instant communication, secrets are hard to keep, lies are quickly exposed, and jaded consumers are a rapt audience for under-the-covers views of what's going on. So why not embrace the reality and just "let it all hang out?" Ironically, the usually button-downed and secretive Microsoft is leading the way, encouraging its engineers to blog about all their projects, while the media darling Apple retains its super-secretive, always-on-message glossy image.

Really, none of this is new. I was fortunate to learn about transparency in a small software start-up, Raleigh Group International. RGI had an intensely sales-driven culture, and salesmen with quotas are used to having a big board with their numbers visible for all to see. Augie took that same sales-board transparency and applied it to the entire company. Not only were sales numbers on the board: company AR and cash in the bank were also up there. A lot of small-business owners would not be comfortable with their financials so exposed, but it actually quelled a lot of internal strife. Any time someone complained about having to take out the trash, or why didn't we do more marketing, or whatever, Augie always just pointed at the white board. Most of the time he didn't even have to say anything else. Occasionally he would say, "When that number hits x dollars, then we can have a cleaning service." Such exposure went a long way to dispelling the image of the business as a paternalistic power, and that the CEO has infinite control. People started looking at the company the way the CEO looked at it. They realized, very tangibly, that the good of the company really was their own good as well.

As a CRM consultant, I preach the same sort of visibility to my customers. Even the executives and managers who hired me to integrate all their data together in one collaborative system eventually get nervous: "You mean Joe is going to be able to see what accounts Bob is calling on? You mean the West Coast team can see what the East Coast team is selling? Ummmm . . . " Some people have spent their entire professional lives hiding behind trumped-up status reports, dealing with salesmen individually rather than collectively, and trying to enhance their aura of infinite power rather than sharing their pain. Take away all the secrecy and positioning and . . . well, there's not much left to play politics with.

But transparency requires trust, and our culture is rapidly losing its capacity to trust. All our lawyers, contracts, disclaimers, pre-nups . . . it all signals a fundamental distrust of the other guy. How can we expect people to trust their co-workers, when they can't even trust their husbands and wives? Fortunately, transparency and trust is a two-way street. As soon as a system creates two-way visibility, lying becomes harder, and we have no choice but to tell the truth, and trust.



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