What Might Being Open And Transparent Do For Your Business?

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Sunday, 6.52pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The poet strips naked. The philosopher takes notes. – Marty Rubin

How open and transparent should you be is a contingent question – it depends on where you are right now.

If you are a large corporate then having friends in the right places and laws that protect your business are perhaps more important.

If you are new and fresh then showing everyone why you are different might be what matters.

What’s interesting is the range of views you get from different people – a range you can see in a sampling of quotes.

Many politicians say they believe in being transparent – which might get a laugh or two from the masses.

A lot of people say transparency is absolutely good – perhaps they are the poets Rubin talks about in the quote above.

But then you have a rejoinder like this one from J. Richard Singleton, “The truth is like sunlight: It causes cancer.”

Harsh.

Plausible?

How open should you be, for example, when it comes to negotiating a pay rise?

Should you be open about how much you need the money? About how much of a struggle it is to meet your bills?

Or should you be open about the work you put in – or don’t put in because of the obstacles in your way?

What if you make a mistake on a client’s account – how do you handle that?

Do you tell the client everything that’s happened or do you try and manage the impact it has on them?

The thing that led me to think about this question has to do with free software.

There are a number of tasks that are better done with such tools – tasks that matter – because they can help with things like climate change.

Should this be done with proprietary, secret tools or should we be trying to use tools that protect our freedom?

When I re-read Richard Stallman’s essays I’m reminded of the huge effort that went into creating the free software ecosystem that many of us use now – the ecosystem that allows me to type this words and share them with you.

But what is it that protects us?

Is it humanity and good feelings – sharing and brotherhood?

Or is it the copyleft – that legal instrument that means work you do for free on free software cannot simply be taken and owned by your employer?

I started this post with the vague thought that openness and transparency are good things.

I may have changed my mind half-way through.

Being completely open and transparent is like standing naked on a beach.

It is unlikely to attract people to you.

The most famous example of such an exercise is perhaps the story of Lady Godiva – but no one seems to be quite sure what the point of it all was.

Or perhaps it’s the story of the Emperor’s new clothes – but that is a story of self-delusion.

You see, the whole point of being open and transparent is not about what it does for your business.

It’s about what it does for your users, your customers.

Free software protects the rights of its users, their freedom to run, study, copy and improve a program.

And it does that by using the law – by using the conventions that society has come up with.

If you help your customers to do the same thing – you might create something unexpected.

You might create trust.

And that’s priceless.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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