Is what you see really what you get? I hope so…

David Weinberger starts out Chapter 5 of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, entitled “The Hyperlinked Organization,” with the words: Business sounds different these days. I thought, “Yeah, it really does!” as he went on to explain how things have evolved from “Fort business” into the hyperlinked organization. I was feeling very positive and upbeat about the potential of the future and how lucky we are to rid ourselves of the old “business pharaohs [who] build their pyramidal organizations out of fear of human fallibility; they’re afraid of being exposed as frightened little boys, fallible and uncertain.”

We are seeing, then, a realignment of loyalties, from resting comfortably in the assumed paternalism of Fort Business to an aggressive devotion to making life better for customers. The business isn’t a machine anymore, it’s a resource I alone and we together can use to make a customer happy.

Yes! It seems we really have wised up. Most quality workers I know would agree, simply because it is the “right” thing to do. You know—work while you’re at work. In other words, take care of business. This makes me happy!

Weinberger also talked about information and understanding:

We don’t need more information. We don’t need better information. We don’t need automatically filtered and summarized information. We need understanding. We desperately want to understand what’s going on in our business, in our markets. And understanding is not more or higher information…

…Here’s another example. I worked at a company that tanked for lots of good reasons. When a bunch of us ex-employees get together, some of us say that it was because the product got too inbred and complex; others say that Marketing failed to predict the platforms the software would have to run on; others say that the management team was too focused on new products and ignored the bread and butter. None of us tell the same story. And that means that we, as a group, don’t understand what happened.

I went through a nasty breakup a few years ago that left me reeling. We ultimately reconciled, but truthfully, I had no idea what happened. I still don’t, actually. I don’t think he does either (even though it was his idea to split.) I mean, we were both there, and obviously contributed to the mess, just like in Weinberger’s failed company, but the connections never got made. While we may have learned from some of our mistakes, the drama of the failure also left some marks.

I think that happens in business too. As workers, when we are burned by a situation, we are automatically just a little gun-shy. I’m not referring to committing the errors that Weinberger applauds as useful and necessary to ferret out the new ideas. I’m talking about getting spanked because you have put yourself out there as counter-cultural in the enthusiastic and optimistic way that has been so encouraged by this incoming era of the hyperlinked organization.

We often use the phrase “knowledge is power” to make it seem that hierarchically granted power is justifiable. In most hierarchies, however, knowledge isn’t power, it’s a weapon. Being right advances you and being wrong is a defeat. That sucks.

You can see the politics of “being right” throughout most organizations. People win arguments — and thus secure their position in the hierarchy — through the cutting remark, through megatonnage of evidence, through agreeing with industry consultants, and through the smug refusal to ever admit being wrong.

Unfortunately, as Weinberger described the politics of “being right,” it made me consider the sad truth that there are still a lot of those “kings of the fort” left out there who would be threatened and hostile toward the idea of relinquishing their power and control. The only thing is, you don’t always know you’ve run into one of these people until you’ve stepped on their toes. It’s gotten better, but it’s left me cautious.

This is where I diverge from Weinberger when he basically says: It’s coming and we’re going to be better off for going down that road. I want to be as positive as he is about it—it would be so cool to always be allowed to use my “real voice” at work.

If the work environment within an organization such as a library is to become more transparent, it only makes sense that, externally, being honest with users and the community is ideal tool. It’s an opportunity to endear yourself as an organization to them: to show that you have their interests and needs at heart and in your mind as you are making decisions or planning new services. Casey and Stephens, in their article, “The transparent library: Living out loud” in Library Journal , say it best: “Your public, your customers, expect it and will hold you to it.”

It’s nice to think that you can control the outflow of information and discussion, but the truth is, you can’t. Those days are gone. Staffers talk to customers, and customers talk to customers. It’s no longer possible to control a solitary message from one central location…

…Remember, if you don’t participate in the story, it will be told without you.

Here, Casey and Stephens (from “The transparent library: Library 2.0.” in Library Journal) remind us, as Weinberger did, that the way we need to approach the organizations we work in is changing. I agree, but I think we all need to tread with care.

1 Response

  1. Kyle July 5, 2012 / 1:09 pm

    A realistic but cautious approach to transparency. Nice job bringing the two disparate authors together.

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