Radical Transparency in the Era of Open Business

Luis Suarez By Luis Suarez
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In a work context, I have always been fascinated by transparency. And, lately, even more about radical transparency. I have always believed that if we would have been, all along, a whole lot more transparent in what we do in the corporate business world, the vast majority of the problems that we are currently suffering from, including what I still think is at the #1 spot, Employee Engagement, all of these troubles would be a thing of the past. Yet, they keep lingering around, because, after all, and, in general, we are not too open, nor transparent enough. And it shows. Over the course of the years I have blogged about this topic a good number of times and in the last few weeks, as I am starting to settle in the new job, I have come to the conclusion that it’s going to be that very same openness and transparency the ones that are going to dictate pretty much whether I’ll be successful, or not, in my efforts to help facilitate the adaptation of fellow knowledge workers to the main Open Business principles. Goodness. I love that challenge.

Indeed, I have always felt that unless you are dealing with rather sensitive, private, confidential, work related information (HR, Legal, Copyright, IP Assets, Financial data, etc.), and even then I would question the vast majority of that data to remain opaque, there is no reason for knowledge workers out there to continue to protect and hoard their knowledge, but, instead, they should share it along freely. All along, I have been using the argument that, as a subject matter expert, of my own domain(s), I am always more than keen to go ahead and help out others around me. No questions asked. You know, if I can help, why wouldn’t I want to do that? It’s the least I could do eventually, i.e. to help others become more awesome at what they do, because in doing so I realise fully that I am helping them become more powerful. Now, as a result of that, since a large chunk of those knowledge workers may well be in my / your network(s), if they become more powerful, you become more powerful.

Remember, long gone are the days where you were alone in your own little cubicle, your own little silo, minding your own business, fighting everyone out there, so you could just get ahead of everyone that could get in between you and your quarterly / yearly bonus. Nowadays though it’s becoming more and more apparent how hyperconnected, networked and interconnected we all are, after all. So instead of fighting and competing with one another, there is a huge shift happening, instead, where we are starting to care (and show more empathy) for one another. And all of that thanks to rubbing our virtual shoulders on each other using social technologies to build further up on our own social capital skills: Trust. Indeed, that’s what it is all about. Not much about how much you trust people, but eventually how much they trust you, for who you are, what you do and how you could help them out without asking for much in return.

It’s all about the givers. It’s always been about the givers.

The thing that interests me the most in terms of radical transparency is that aspect of how different it actually is from Social Business, or from Social for that matter. See? You can be extremely social, over-sharing and making heavy use of these social networking tools for business, but if you don’t share much about what you do, about who you talk to, about your daily tasks, activities and to-dos, about your own frustrations that are stopping you from growing further in your work, about what interests you that relates to your motivations, etc. etc. and instead you just keep sharing along about what other people do, about what you are having for lunch, or that upcoming business trip where you only mention the city you are travelling to, you are just bringing forward the very same good old habits we have become really good at over the last 30 to 50 years. For you, knowledge still is power.

Now, don’t take me wrong, I quite enjoy it when people share those social tidbits, more than anything else, because they are critical towards increasing your own social capital, but from there to essentially keep everything you do hidden away is not doing you any favours in terms of generating strong trustworthy bonds with those who you work the closest with. It’s like I have been saying all along: how can I help you further along, if I don’t know what you are working on?

Last time I checked, I didn’t have telepathic powers (Although I wish I would have them!), so by you not opening up enough in terms of what you do, what you are working on and who you are collaborating with, you are not helping your network(s) help you. In fact, you have just become a barrier. And that’s the whole point behind Open Business and radical transparency. Yes, of course, transparency has got limits and I am sure we all know what they are. But from that to working in a 100% obscure environment, there is a whole grey area in there, waiting to be explored by everyone. And that includes management and executives, for that matter.

Take this one good example from one of my good friends in the space of Social Business and Collaboration, Oscar Berg, who just recently put together this very insightful and rather inspiring blog post on My 7 Work Mantras, where, thanks to item #6 from the list, he ended up with some pretty amazing visualisations done by folks in Oscar’s networks:

@anadatagirl thanks Ana! Since my mantra #6 is to share everything that can be shared, it was time to share my mantras ;-)

— Oscar Berg (@oscarberg) April 23, 2013

Or take a look into this other rather insightful blog post by another good friend of mine, Gautam Ghosh, where he is encouraging HR and organisations, in general, for that matter, to accept the new normal: Transparency is here to stay, by demand, not just because of your customers and business partners are asking and demanding it more and more often, but also because your own employees are starting to place those very same demands on transparency upon your own org. Not you as an individual, but the overall organisation itself.

Finally, there are plenty of rather insightful blog posts, articles and other relevant writings and info-graphics around openness and transparency and the impact they are having within the corporate world. See this other one, one of my all time favourites, from the always insightful Rachel Happe, as another example. Feel free to share as well, in the comments, what other ones you have enjoyed the most or that have provided you with additional food for thought on the topic. I would love to read plenty more on this topic.

However, and for now, I would want to finish off this blog post with a rather intriguing, thought provoking and incredibly refreshing YouTube video clip, from Thomas Frey, posted originally in May 2008 (Yes, 5 years ago people were already posted some really amazing content out there on the Social Web!) on this very same topic of Radical Transparency and which has served me as inspiration for the various different blog posts that I am planning on sharing across over here to detail plenty more what my job role is all about as an exercise to continue walking the talk, leading by example, on what has been, to me, one of the main core mantras from over the course of the years in terms of realising an Open Business: narrate your work, working out loud, to facilitate observable work.

Now, apply that to a business context, i.e. your day to day work… and get ready, please!

Because it’s coming …

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About Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez has been working in the fields of Knowledge Management, collaboration, communities, and learning for the past seven years, and is heavily involved in social computing and its adoption within the enterprise. Luis shares his insights on important KM issues of today through The Knowledge Management Blog and ELSUA.NET, and is an active participant in the ITtoolbox blogging community.

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