Radical Transparency – A New Playbook for a Connected Environment

In his best-selling book “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell used the term “connector” to describe individuals who have multiple ties to different social worlds. It’s not the number of people we know that makes connections significant. It is our ability to link people, ideas, and resources that wouldn’t normally associate with one another. In business, connectors are critical facilitators of collaboration. “Radical transparency” is transforming the way we connect and communicate.

Connectivity, Communication, and Collaboration

A 2011 Harvard Business Review article detailed how business people are working more collaboratively. Not just within organizations but also with suppliers, customers, governments, and training providers. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, videoconferencing, and a host of other technologies have put connectivity on steroids and enabled new forms of collaboration that would have been impossible a short while ago. Deloitte’s recent “Future of Work” research now finds 65% of C-Level executives surveyed have a strategic objective to transform their organization’s culture with a focus on connectivity, communication, and collaboration.

Not long ago, the only public statements a company made were professionally written press releases and speeches by the CEO or President. Blogging, virtual “Town Hall Meetings “and You Tube video are new ways of evolving traditional forms of engagement. The April issue of Wired Magazine published a number of interesting articles on business blogging, or “radical transparency”. Today, companies want their leaders and workers to communicate publicly about what their organization is doing, right or wrong. Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, apologizes to startups he’s accidentally harmed and in February, JetBlue CEO David Neeleman leveraged You Tube to deflect negative publicity and apologize after trapping passengers for hours in storm-grounded planes and cancelling 1,100 flights. To some this may seem like corporate madness. Who in their right mind wants to see their errors and liabilities immortalized on the internet?

“Nothing Happens in Meetings”

In response to a familiar refrain that “nothing happens in meetings”, Stephen Wolfram a 30 year silicon valley CEO, “thinks in public” by live streaming meetings effectively supporting everyone behind the scenes responsible for what Wolfram does and how their products are created. (Yes, live streams are archived.) Embracing radical transparency in this case fosters openness, builds consumer trust and creates a digital record of meeting dialogue. In this brave new world a company’s existence may depend on how well it combines the potential of its people and the quality of the information possessed with the willingness to share knowledge.

“It’s an interesting and unique record of a powerful form of intellectual activity” says Wolfram, “but it’s nice just to be able to share some of the fascinating conversations I’m a part of every day and to educate and perhaps entertain a few more people out in the world.” Most executives agree that collaboration is more important than ever in today’s unsettled business environment. Embracing radical transparency and engaging in new forms of conversation will challenge, provoke, and forever change your outlook on the digital economy.