Barack Obama has signed an amendment to the US Freedom of Information Act that paves the way for more open government. It's almost capitalism's version of Gorbachev's Glasnost. AlwaysOn has published an article by one of the architects of Government 2.0, Irving Wladawsky-Berger. He says:
"Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing," says the President's memorandum. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis succinctly captured the power of openness and transparency when he wrote that Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant.
"If the leaders of public companies knew the decisions they make in private, are automatically made public, would they be the same decisions?"
Here's an extract from my book of an experience I had with Thomas Power when we were trying to explain to BT the business benefits of openness enabled by social networks and online communities. The year is 2003.
“So, what does Ecademy actually do?” Thomas answered in one short sentence, “we sell openness”. The room fell silent. It was as if he’d just asked everyone to line up against the wall to be executed. At least twenty minutes of debate ensued where Thomas attempted to explain exactly what he meant. I don’t have a transcript of the conversation, but it went something like this.
Execs: “What do you mean by you sell openness?”
TP: “Well, we have developed an online networking platform that enables people to search and discover each other”
Execs: “Why would they want to do that?”
TP: “Because they are micro-businesses and entrepreneurs who want to network with each other”
TP: “Lots of reasons. They seek contacts, business partners, customers or are socially or professionally lonely”
Execs: “So what’s that got to do with us?”
TP: “A lot of our members are geeks and in particular Wi-Fi enthusiasts. So if you’re launching a nationwide service they can help you test and promote your offering. They’re also a target rich community of potential customers”
Execs: “What if they don’t like the service or complain online? We don’t want our brand trashed in public”
TP: “It’s just as valuable to get negative feedback. Our platform will enable you to engage in a dialogue with your market. We don’t permit anti-social behaviour but we do encourage free speech, honesty and openness. You would have an insight on how to change the packaging or pricing of your product based on real customers, talking back to you in real time. This could save you money”
Execs: “We’re not sure we have the time to engage this way. Are there any other benefits?”
TP: “Yes, but the most valuable one is that members see in your answers not just words but a real sense that employees care and that BT is confident enough in what it stands for to allow employees to say what they want. As a result, the company's social commitment avoids sounding like every other company's trendy PR. Because we manage and organise the community, BT’s lack of direct control is precisely equivalent to the depth of its real commitmen”.
Execs: “Interesting. And what’s the ROI (return on investment) on all this?”
“Paranoia kills conversation. That's its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies”