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.
Are there two more powerful words in the world? “I’m sorry.” When these words are said with sincerity and the sincerity is proven by action, these words can change everything. They are an essential part of the new world of authenticity and transparency. The truth is people screw up and make mistakes. Our litigious society has made it very very dangerous to admit to making mistakes and accept responsibility. But something else is going on as well. People are realizing that credibility in these days is based on full disclosure, complete honesty and the full acceptance of responsibility.
This story from the New York Times about foundations admitting the failure of grants is a great example the growing trend toward painful honesty, and the value of participating in it. Here’s the concluding sentence: “Foundations are supposed to take risks,” Mr. Brest said. “Sure, it’s better to tell your success stories, but there’s no harm in sharing our failures, too. The only thing at stake is our egos.”
Unfortunately, this comment shows that while the trend is good, there is a lack of understanding of why it is so important. Mr. Brest says there is no harm in sharing our failures. Actually, there is. Failures are still failures. The only reason to show them is because the harm in not showing them comes from the sense of covering up what should be made visible. Don’t kid yourself. Talking about your mistakes doesn’t change the fact that they are mistake. Doing so doesn’t necessarily make you look good. It just keeps you from looking a whole lot worse if that mistake is discovered and made visible by others because then you can be charged with cover-up, with dishonesty, with not being trust worthy. The real mistake Mr. Brest makes here, however, is in the last sentence. No, Mr. Brest, the only thing at stake is not your egos. It is your credibility. And if you lose that, you can just lose the whole enterprise. That is the point.