The very nature of digital and the web leads to transparency. Digital makes it hard to keep secrets, makes it hard to hide. We should embrace transparency because we cannot avoid it.

If digital has taught us anything it is that there is a record kept of almost everything. This record is often easy to copy and distribute. Because so many copies are made and because these copies live in a network, it is very difficult to fully delete something.

We must live and work as if everything about us is known — or at the very least — knowable. We have a choice. To be transparent. Or to be made transparent.

Part of why the world is in turmoil today is because all its secrets are leaking out, particularly the secrets of the establishment, the elite 1 percent. From Snowden to the Panama Papers, we’re getting pictures of how the rich and powerful rule the world — and these pictures aren’t pretty.

Throughout history, the powerful elite have controlled the flow of information. The powerful are still powerful but with the advent of the web and smartphones, they have lost control of the flow of information. Consequently, they have lost the ability to control the message as much as they were used to.

The web is like a really good pair of glasses. Before the web, things were a bit hazy. It was hard to see exactly what was happening. But with the web you get a much clearer picture, and you get to talk to other people like you.

The web has meant that governments and politicians are coming under scrutiny like never before. What we often discover is systematic corruption, a corruption that is so deep it’s not even seen as corruption.

Learning Opportunities

Let me give you an example. In 2009, when the swine flu epidemic hit, it was interesting to see how governments responded. Was their first instinct to protect the public? Not really, at least not with the governments I had contact with. Their first instinct was to protect the pig industry. 

Government PR people were issuing press releases saying that we should not use swine flu as a name (even though scientists were using that very phrase), and coming up with ridiculous jargon names for the epidemic that nobody was searching for.

Time and time again, I have found that while the web team wants to serve the customer and use words that they will be searching with, the management will do everything in their power to introduce propaganda and change the story. The instinct of management is to protect the establishment and all its related special interests. The customer and the citizen come a distant second. (Although the propaganda PR will gush about how much it cares about the customer experience.)

This model might work in a low-information, poorly connected society, but it simply doesn’t work today. And yet management is in total denial, living a grand delusion, wondering occasionally why people are so disloyal.

Day in, day out I deal with managers who shudder at the idea of transparency. Management lives within a deep cultural mind-set of hierarchy, subservience and control. If digital transformation does not address this corrosive and truly out-of-date culture, then nothing of worth will be transformed.

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