What transparency really means, and why it can hurt

October 4, 2007

This really is the age of transparency as I and others have trumpeted for some time. But the transition is painful for many. A glass house will reveal a lot of ugly things.

This blogpost from 37signals (a technology company we admire a lot around here) provides some great examples of transparency and the pain associated with it. Interestingly, this focuses on transparency in mainstream media–a place where “coverup” is fed upon like mosquitos on a bald head, which demands transparency from government and everyone else it covers, and which has a hard time providing the level of transparency it demands from others.

It is encouraging to see this kind of transparency happening in the MSM. It needs to continue, go further and deeper, but it also needs to spread to government agencies and private organizations. Surely, no everything need to dragged out to the public view. But this age expects an unusually high level of honesty and openness. Those used to a different view of the world will find themselves the focus of intense questions about what they are hiding.


2 Responses to “What transparency really means, and why it can hurt”

  1. Thanks for the link to the article; helped to hear the term “ombudsman” used in this context.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on transparency and crisis management–as I’m working on a book about transparency and this is a section we’re going to cover, what advice do you give clients (that you can share, of course) that helps them deal with the public/their employees when in a crisis? I’m keeping this general to give you a full reign of answers here.

    Thanks and best,
    John C. Havens

  2. gbaron Says:

    John, I would enjoy an offline conversation with you about this. But there are two basics I tend to focus on re transparency. First, if you have done something wrong to cause the crisis (like spilled oil in the water or did insider trading) you must apologize. You must accept responsibility and communicate how you understand this violates the values and standards of the audience. In most cases we are very forgiving people but only if we see genuine acceptance of responsibility and remorse.
    The second is the role of legal issues. This usually comes into conflict with the desire for transparency. Lawyers are first concerned about winning in court. CEOs need to make judgments at this point about the relative value of the courts of law vs. the court of public opinion. This isn’t easy but I see evidence that more are realizing the critical value of winning in the court of public opinion.

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