The Trouble With Transparency

Sometimes openness seems inevitable. We are on a high speed train driven by technology and open systems – “Knowledge wants to be free” is the saying. I’m not so sure knowledge “wants” anything. It’s people who want things. We are just beginning to explore our wants and technology is a fantastic, and frightening, enabler of that journey. 

Here's the math, as I see it: technology enables data transparency which creates individual and organizational openness which has the byproduct of vulnerability which threatens our privacy.

Organizations seem particularly vulnerable to transparency. I have trouble imagining a future where all organizations of any real size or significance will be immune to its unrelenting light. Anytime there is a gathering, there is data. That data always has value to someone- internally and externally.

But what about individuals? What role does openness play in our individual lives? Openness leads to vulnerability which is a tricky energy. Vulnerability drives all kinds of behaviors and outcomes, good and bad.

Vulnerability is big right now in the business world. And for good reason. It’s a secret weapon. Biz guru Patrick Lencioni said “I’m tired of talking about servant leadership as if there is any other kind." Maybe wishful thinking but it speaks to what works- leaders that show vulnerability build committed teams. You can’t do great things without commitment. 

Now a little metaphysical detour that will make sense later, I hope.

I believe we are wired to create. In my mind, any creation of value serves a purpose. So we are wired to serve through creation. I don’t claim to know the who, how or why of this. I’m just making an observation.

So as Dylan said “you gotta serve somebody”. Why not have it be a group of amazing people? In this case, what has always been true is a somewhat recent revelation in the cut-throat world of business. But again, openness rewards what was once a weakness. Vulnerability works. 

Openness also has an interesting byproduct: data. As noted above, that data has value. Something that originated altruistically (sharing) has become a commodity (data). In the future this disconnect will increasingly drive conflict between creators, platforms and consumers. 

How about another metaphysical tangent? Ok...

Increasingly you can see the revelation of nature’s intrinsic moral compass by simply looking at “what works”- with ourselves, our relationships, our organizations, our government. “Big Data” is essentially revealing our moral DNA. We can debate the author but we are cracking an intelligent code. Our openness, our data, only speeds our discoveries. Many amazing revelations could come, many dangerous tools could be built. I try to see the positive. 

Our collective openness could result in a more empathic world. A world where we truly know and care for each other. But this won’t happen unless people feel safe.

Openness thrives on safety. If we don’t feel safe, we don’t share. 

So openness and vulnerability cuts both ways. Humans are wired to care but they are also wired to fear. Fear drives all kinds of bad behaviors. Fear is the root of all evil, not money. I don’t know what Jesus was thinking. Must be a misquote. 

Beyond creating opportunities for more good ol' fashioned evil, what else will openness do to our nature?

If we open our lives completely to each other (via machines) will we lose some core human element during the reveal? A touch that kills?

Will openness diminish our private selves? That part of us that we only reveal to ones we trust. 

As we rewire for sharing, how will we maintain something worth sharing?

Not to mention the fatigue that comes from sharing. The constant flow of energy, mostly leaving. It’s as if our devices run on that energy. Maybe someday they will figure out how to do that.

After much wandering here’s where I’m at – humans are wired to have an off-state, computers are not. We need downtime. Our human rhythms are poorly matched with a machine’s. Maybe we should make them more human before they make us permanently less. 

This is where we could find some balance between openness and privacy. Creating safe environments for expression. Limited environments. 100% analog, not digital capture. As we open ourselves to each other, let’s remember to keep a good chunk separate, just for ourselves.