A Business Used to be a Black Box. Now it’s a Glass Box.

In the 21st-century, transparency is remaking the relationship between people and powerful organizations.

David Mattin

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In a connected world, the relationship between powerful organizations and the societies in which they operate is being redrawn. We all understand that. But we’re still catching up to the full implications.

Here is one such implication. A transparent world means a radical change in the nature of brands. That’s a huge shift, because brands — business, political, individual — do much to shape the world we live in.

This week we learned that Microsoft employees have been sharing stories of sexual harassment and discrimination in a long internal email chain. Many of those employees say they originally complained to HR, but got nowhere.

Reports say the chain started when one female staff member emailed others to ask for advice on how to break through the glass ceiling at Microsoft. Stories of harassment, abuse and prejudice began to pour in, including one by a woman who says she was asked to perform sex acts by a senior employee of a partner company, and was ignored when she complained. As news of the email chain spread through Microsoft, HR announced an investigation.

Stories of gender discrimination at big corporations are, sadly, nothing new. But the way this story surfaced — as an email chain first shared between staff and then leaked to the media — is a reminder of a powerful truth. A connected world is a more transparent world. And a transparent world is transformative.

That’s because transparency reconfigures power relationships. Just look at what transparency has done to some of the most powerful organizations of our time across the last couple of years. Transparency ended Travis Kalanick’s reign as CEO of the unicorn he grew from birth. It brought us the truth about Facebook, and forced Mark Zuckerberg to do the previously unthinkable: call for regulation of social media.

Credit: Shutterstock

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David Mattin

Founder at New World Same Humans | World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Consumption