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September 19, 2013

The Curious By-product of Transparency

September 19, 2013

In a recent talk, Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, mused that the by-product of our technology-enabled world is that it "will force every entity to become an authentic organization." What an interesting and challenging idea! Why would technology perpetuate this change? I think it comes down to transparency. Big Data and the web, empowered by all this technology, are forcing transparency on organizations. For the most part, the web is external and data internal, but both bring with them one thing: transparency.


Technology (web and data) is like an ever-growing spotlight, shining on all it touches. Its breadth and intensity grow every day. All organizations, once they step into this spotlight, begin to embrace a level of transparency that never existed for them before. It is a transparency that brings unpredictable revelations: dirty laundry and skeletons exist in every organization. Also, businesses hate unknowns, and the ever-shifting transparency of the web is a huge unknown. This creates an unavoidable challenge.

This technology-enabled transparency usually has one of two impacts on an organization. They open up further and move towards accountability and authenticity, or they retreat back towards willful blindness. There is certainly a blend between these two extremes - and I would argue that is a healthy approach - but these are the overall trends. Openness or blindness. Towards the light or towards the darkness.

Of course we know what happens to organizations that retreat from technology. We see their remains everywhere we go - Blockbuster, Borders, etc. There are some good examples of companies that have embraced an antiquated technology and had success, but these companies are mostly boutique shops (craftsmen, artists) that serve a niche audience. As a vinyl record collector, I can appreciate this as well as anyone. But I also want my vinyl record to come with a digital download code. 

So the companies that ignore technology and its impact - transparency and change - do so at their own risk. The ones that move towards the light will face the challenges as well as reap the rewards of transparency. There is no such thing, at least yet, as a fully transparent organization. But organizations that move towards transparency will have the happy by-product of building authentic organizations. Consider this: who would you rather work for or buy from? The real deal or a fake?

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