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April 2007

Radical Transparency: Revelation, Reputation and Reciprocity

Wired_cover15_04The current issue of Wired has a great feature on radical transparency, highlighting the benefits that accrue to CEOs who are open to revealing their shadows, and exposing the risks to the reputations of those who continue to embrace secrecy and/or duplicity in their self representations. As with many Wired features, it is provocative ... and rather biased ... and just happens to align well with my own biases. I want to explore some of the issues raised in the article, blend in some issues I and others have raised elsewhere, and ruminate a bit about the prospective breadth and depth of radical transparency.

In preparing the lead article, The See-Through CEO, author Clive Thompson walked his talk by posting an entry on his blog outlining his plans (focusing on three themes: "secrecy is dead", "tap the hivemind", "reputation is everything"), and inviting comments. He received over 50 responses, with very high signal-to-noise ratio; several of them are explicitly included in his article (others are presumably implicitly included).

Redfin_logo_208_46 Clive opens his article with a story about how Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, was faced with mounting challenges to his company's attempt to disintermediate the real estate business by empowering home buyers and sellers through a rich (and enriching) Internet application. Redfin provides an easy-to-use window into the real estate market, offering a map-based interface for prospective buyers to see a wealth of information about homes for sale in a given market (I imagine a similarly powerful interface for home sellers, but have not yet explored that side of the house). Faced with resistance by realtors who understandably feel threatened by this introduction of disruptive technology that [somewhat ironically] renders transparent many aspects of a complex and lucrative market in which they once enjoyed a clear hegemony of information, Redfin was in danger of failing.

Glenn created a blog to reveal some of the challenges he was encountering internally and externally. While initially hesitant to being so open about the challenges, he found that "instead of discouraging customers, being open about our problems radicalized them ... they rallied and started pulling for us". Glenn's move, and the response, hardly surprises me, given his inspiring recommendations on 10 Steps for Building a Company at NWEN's Entrepreneur University 2005 (one of which was "be open and honest and respectful") and his more recent presentation on Fortune Favors the Bold (one of which is "radical openness: the truth will set you free"). I'm also reminded of Glenn's recommendations for hiring employees -- "find the maniacs and give them a reason to believe" ... and given how he has, in effect, invited his customers into the pool of maniacs and believers, I'm thinking that my earlier rumination on everyone's a customer might be due for an update, as it appears that, increasingly, everyone's a partner.

I was [further] reflecting on how openness and vulnerability tends to breed reciprocity, and that if businesses want to build strong relationships with customers, that has to be built on a platform of trust, and the best way to get others to trust you is to trust them (demonstrating trustworthiness by trusting). I've written before about the business value of integrity, openness, vulnerability and compassion, but at that point was thinking more about how those principles might be applied internally. As Web 2.0 progessively erodes the barriers between us and them, there may be more business value to practicing those principles in "external" relationships as well.

Clive notes that

Google is not a search engine. Google is a reputation management system ... here's the interesting paradox: The reputation economy creates and incentive to be more open, not less. Since Internet commentary is inescapable, the only way to influence it is to be part of it ... network algorithms do not favor the cagey or secretive. They favor the prolific, the outgoing, the shameless.

However, I started to wonder how widely this radical transparency really applies (or could apply). Redfin is clearly a company that is setting out to empower its customers, and it's little surprise to me that some of those customers would help Redfin help them. Microsoft is another company that was profiled in this feature, where Fred Vogelstein [who, surprisingly to me, does not appear to have a blog] explored Operation Channel 9, the internal project wherein a small group of radicals went around creating impromptu videotape interviews with Microsoft developers and posting them on an external web site, and observed that "no large company - with the possible exception of Sun Microsystems - is as far along in understanding how the Internet changes the way employees connect with suppliers, customers, shareholders and peers". By promoting openness and vulnerability -- sometimes at the risk of being fired (reminding me of the risk / reward tradeoffs between thriving and surviving discussed -- especially in the comments -- in my last post) -- the Channel 9 crew helped Microsoft establish a new [virtual] front porch, making itself more approachable by its network of third party developers ... and, I suspect, a significant number of its end-users. This channel is also augmented with over 4,500 other channels (external bloggers), giving Microsoft one of the highest [external] blogger-per-capita rates (6.3%) of any company I know of.

So why does Microsoft have so many external bloggers, and why does, say, Nokia have so few? The blogroll at Stephen Johnston's ThreeDimensionalPeople blog has the most complete listing I've seen anywhere, but at 15 of 55,000, we have a blogger-per-employee ratio of 0.02%. There are, of course, a number of blogs sponsored or at least promoted by Forum Nokia, but as the forum is invitation-only (and the invitation can presumably be revoked at any time), I'm not sure how high these blogs would score on the radical transparency scale. I realize that many of the Microsoft blogs are primarily "promotional", but many of them tend to play closer to the edges with respect to what they reveal about the company and its practices, policies and personnel.

I know Nokia is very proud -- and protective -- of its brand, and so I started wondering about whether there is a fundamental tension between branding and blogging? According to Business Week's listing of Top 100 Global Brands, Nokia's brand is #6 and Microsoft is #2, suggesting that blogging does not adversely affect the brand (or at least not necessarily so). IBM, which has an extensive array of internal blogs (3,600 as of a report 2 years ago) and wikis, is #3 among brands, and seems to have hundreds of external blogs (judging from a few lists). On the other end of the spectrum, Coca-Cola (the #1 brand) has one rather infamous flog (fake blog), but very few "real" blogs (that I can find).

Does the discrepancy between external blog adoption rates have anything to do with a company's dedication to the empowerment of its customers? Nokia's mantra ("connecting people") certainly implies a level of individual empowerment, though perhaps not in the same way as Microsoft's mantra ("your potenial, our passion"), and I would argue that neither large company empowers its customers as clearly as Redfin does. It would be interesting to do a more comprehensive assessment of the correlation between brands and blogs, and even more interesting to investigate the causal relationship(s) between these two factors (and other factors such as size, vision, mission, values, industry, customer bases and business models). Meanwhile, in the spirit of Clive's openness, I welcome any insights anyone has to share on any of this.


Fino, Finis, Finnish: Jukka Soikkeli's Farewell Party (and the Power of Passion)

Jukkaatfino We celebrated Jukka Soikkeli's 20+ years at Nokia Research Center at Cafe Fino in Palo Alto last night. Besides learning about Jukka's penchant for Corvettes, and some of his tangible and intangible contributions to (and through) Nokia, it was noted that Jukka is a prototypical Finn: a man of few words, the wisdom of which often becomes evident well after they are uttered. In keeping with this tradition, Jukka gave a rather short speech, although the wisdom (for me) was immediately apparent. One of the things he emphasized was the importance of passion as the key ingredient behind successes he'd witnessed (and promoted) in his years at Nokia. He encouraged those of us who will be continuing on with the firm to not pay so much attention to what people further up the chain are saying [I'm suddenly struck by the multiple interpretations one might associate with the "chains of command(s)"], but to follow our instincts when we're on to something we truly believe is important. [I've posted a separate entry on following my instincts in sharing my passion for Amarone last night on my wine blog]

The topic(s) of passion, instincts and authority provided an undercurrent to many of the discussions I had throughout the rest of the evening with several of my colleagues here at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto. I believe everyone believes in the power of passion, but some of the people who have been with NRC for a long period of time have experienced or witnessed changes that I've heard variously described with terms ranging from gentle breezes to earthquakes. While we are regularly encouraged to take risks here, it's very challenging to take risks in an environment that is not perceived as offering a high level of trust and support. NRC Palo Alto is a new lab, and as such we are co-creating a new culture; as we develop and apply our skills in technical areas, we need to consciously cultivate the kinds of social and community support that will offer the scaffolding needed for bold[er] actions ... and to recognize that we are all leaders in this effort.

I wrote recently about how I feel I'm really coming alive again, after having lived and worked through some winds of change and groundshaking experiences myself (in both the personal and professional dimensions). I still feel very much the new kid on the block, having been here just over 6 months, and coupled with my natural naivete and unbridled optimism, I have high hopes about our prospects for creating a high trust environment that will encourage the kinds of risks we'll need to take in order to succeed.

Mashing up the wisdom of Jukka with a quote often attributed to Harold Thurman Whitman:

Don’t ask yourself what the world Nokia needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world Nokia needs is people who have come alive.


Data, Judgments, Feelings and Wants: A Path toward Clarity

I was talking with some colleagues this morning about recognizing and resolving misunderstandings and [other] conflicts. I mentioned a few different perspectives and processes that I've used, and sent along some references. I've blogged about two of them before: the four agreements and love and logic. I was surprised to discover I'd never blogged about a third process, nor could I discover any other references for it on the web. It is the clearing process I learned as part of the Mankind Project.

The core of the process is distinguishing between data, judgments, feelings and wants, and recognizing that each person is simply a mirror for me (and I am simply a mirror for others). When I feel a "charge" about something that someone has said (or not said) or done (or not done), I can clear that charge by recognizing, articulating and processing four dimensions of the energy I'm feeling about the [in]action:

  • Data: what are the observable facts involved in the situation: things that have been said or done (or not said or not done), by me or the other person(s)?
  • Judgments: what inferences do I draw from those data, e.g., how do I judge the other(s), and/or how do I judge that he/she/they judge me?
  • Feelings: how do I feel about those judgments and data, i.e., glad, sad, mad or afraid?
  • Wants: given these feelings, judgments and data, what is it I really want (for myself)?

Learning how to distinguish effectively between data and judgments is a challenging (and ongoing) process. I often think of negative judgments such as "you don't respect me" or "you don't take me seriously" as data, but increasingly recognize them as judgments. Getting clear about the actual feelings is also challenging, as the surface level anger I sometimes feel is often a mask for fear. Early on, my wants often revolved around what I wanted from another person (e.g., "I want you to love me") and it is only with persistent practice that I can better realize the value of focusing on wants for myself ("I want to love myself ... regardless of whether I judge that anyone else loves me").

I've omitted a step from the list above, in which I may reflect on how the charge I feel is really about me (radical personal responsibility), and [when appropriate] to go back to the first time I felt the feelings and judgments that are creating the charge. This often occurs between the feelings and wants steps, but I can't think of a good one-word description for this step. It typically results in yet another example of "lessons are repeated as often as necessary".

The framework is powerful, and I've often applied it outside of MKP contexts. I was surprised that googling for "data judgments feelings wants" did not turn up anything I recognized as relevant to MKP (and hope that I'm not violating some principle in revealing the process here). However, the search turned up some interesting items, e.g.,

The Four Preferences: Do we rely on our five senses and want concrete, practical data to work with? ... Most decisions involve some Thinking and some Feeling. ...

ISTJ Personal Growth: An ISTJ's feeling of success depends upon being able to use their ... Their hyper-vigilant judgments about the rationality and competence of others may be a ...

As I've noted before, I'm an ENFP ... and although I haven't noted it before, my wife, Amy, is an ISTJ, and so this google-based serendipitous discovery of potential differences in perspectives regarding judgments, feelings and wants is rather illuminating (in my judgment).


ETech 2007, Part 2: People, Power, Patterns and Practices

I find it challenging to summarize my impressions of ETech 2007 in a single phrase (or a "one thing" that was most interesting, a question I often ask others returning from a conference). I already wrote about the themes of fun, games and magic at ETech, and Tim O'Reilly's recent post on a Call for a Blogger's Code of Conduct addresses some of the intimidation issues that arose during the conference. In this post, I'll focus on the ideas of people, power, patterns and practices that emerged over the course of the last two days of the event.

Mike Kuniavsky spoke of "The Coming Age of Magic" [slides], in which he depicted trends in computing costs that are leading to greater capabilities to embed computing elements in things that are not traditionally thought of as computers, which in turn, is leading to more animism, metaphor and automation. One of the interesting insights Mike shared was that it is not just the ability to embed computation in objects, but the ability to embed knowledge in objects (and thus create, modify and use knowledge in new ways), that will be an important source of new powers in the coming age of ubiquitous computing. Mike's views contrast with Adam Greenfield's warnings the previous day of the potential for human disempowerment through ubiquitous computing technologies. I believe that the key difference lies in how much technologies are designed (or co-opted) to do for us on our behalf rather than at our behest, reminiscent of some interesting distinctions Yvonne Rogers raised in a paper challenging Mark Weiser's Vision at UbiComp 2006 (and in which she invoked Adam Greenfield's book, Everywhere).

In keeping with the magical theme, danah boyd presented "Incantations for Muggles: The Role of Ubiquitous Web 2.0 Technologies in Everyday Life", in which she observed that in the world of Harry Potter, wizards are trying to make the world a better place for everyone (wizards and muggles -- people who don't have magic -- alike). danah asked us to consider what are the spells we cast on one another, cast on society, and what are the spells others cast on us (bringing to mind the recent attacks on a good wizard in the blogosphere, as well as Don Miguel Ruiz' exhortation in his first agreement to "be impeccable with your word(s)"). Noting that people are the "backside" of the magic of Web 2.0 (contrasting with, or perhaps complementing, the view that "Data is the 'Intel Inside' for Web 2.0" espoused by others at ETech), danah shared some insights from her research into how young people are weaving Web 2.0 technologies into their everyday lives. She distinguished four stages in web use: identity formation and role-seeking (youth, teens, college students), integration and coupling (20-somethings), societal contribution (professional life), and reflection and storytelling (retirement). She noted that Web 2.0 introduces four key elements -- persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences -- with [still] largely unknown consequences. Noting that "all the rules about privacy are changing" (suggesting [to me] that Web 2.0 is an example of what James Carse calls an infinite game), danah concluded with a call to action: "How do we make a community that we can love being a part of?"

Raph Koster described many dimensions of "The Core of Fun" [slides] ... in fact, too many to enumerate here (many details can be found in his book, and associate web site, on The Theory of Fun). So instead, I'll highlight some interesting connections that emerged for me during his talk. Raph noted "fun fundamentally comes from learning, and failure is very important" (related to the the art of making mistakes wakefully), "as soon as you give someone a ladder to climb, they’re going to climb it" (reminding me of Stephen R. Covey's metaphor of climbing the ladder of success, only to find it was leaning against the wrong wall), "[game] outcomes have to be highly visible" (related to Carse's notions of property and titles), "bottomfeeding [low-risk activity for high-reward] is bad for fun", and the goal of a good game is "to get users riding right at the edge of what they think they can do" (reflecting the importance of playing the edge in any practice). Combined with earlier talks by Amy Jo Kim and Jane McGonigal, and some earlier ruminations of my own on the pervasiveness of games, I started wondering how Raph's notions of the Core of Fun might apply to the game of employment ... but I'll leave further speculation on that topic for another time.

Speaking of employment, and [large] employers, Chad Dickerson shared some experiences from Yahoo! Hack Day, in which the goal was to hack software, hardware, and, to a certain extent, a large company (or, at least, it's culture). Mixing the wisdom of Eric Raymond ("every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch"), Wynton Marsalis ("don’t bullshit, just play") and Kraftwerk ("it’s more fun to compute"), Chad and his colleagues instituted Open Hack Day, a 24-hour event with three rules: build something in 24 hours (no Powerpoint), present it to everyone at the end of the day (90 seconds), and  no prior review of projects (anything goes). The goals were to generate more excitement and engagement between Yahoo! and its customers and/or future employees (of course, everyone's a customer), and Chad said they gained more of everything than they expected (including being spoofed in a puppet video created by musician / hacker Beck, who provided [some of] the entertainment).

Matt Webb presented "From Pixels to Plastics" [slides], introducing the notion of Gen C: communities, connected  (socially and electronically), creative, controlling and complexity, and wondering aloud how we should design for such a group. He proposed, essentially, the widgetization of everything, in order to provide platform(s) on which to build  products and services for Gen C, and the use of what he called experimental observation, that treats experience itself as a design surface, as a design tool. He showed a Japanese video about folding a tshirt as an example of how the experience of observing the unfolding of an experience can be relaxing, meditative and even fun (he also said he feels a similar enchantment watching code compile … and at this point, I was reminded me of Thich Nhat Hanh’s experimental observations in Miracle of Mindfulness, in which he notes how the simple act of mindfully washing dishes can be similarly relaxing, meditative and enjoyable). Among the various intriguing examples of things that aren't good for anything above and beyond the experience is Otoizm, which is sort of like a tamagotchi that plugs into an MP3 player, and grows based on your music (it even has lovegety-like functionality built in). Another is the Availabot, a push puppet connected to a computer via USB that physically represents the availability of an IM buddy (reminiscent of some of the phidgets that Saul Greenberg and his colleagues have developed).

Joshua Schachter shared "Lessons Learned in Scaling and Building Social Systems" (e.g., del.icio.us), in which he offered some insights into and experiences with tags, scale, slop, reappropriation, RSS, infection, language (the subtle but important difference between labeling a checkbox “do not share” and “private”), identity & reputation, fidelity (preserve plausible deniability), spam & abuse (gaming), visualization, aesthetics & morals (pretty URLs, “delete” really means delete), the methodology of creativity (design for yourself), motivations, user testing, measure & record. Several of the things Joshua shared were very much aligned with Amy Jo Kim’s earlier presentation on game mechanics (e.g., “any time you put numbers on the screen, people are going to try to make them go up”), and I got to wondering if del.icio.us is less of a “game” than, say, Digg, YouTube or Twitter (the three primary case studies covered in Amy Jo's tutorial) … and whether this is by design.

Quinn Norton shared some examples of – and insights into – body hacking, which she defined as "acting on yourself, with or without assistance, to enhance the function of your body or your perceptions", and in keeping with other forms of hacking, noted that body hacking is [simply?] another form of volition: the freedom to enact your will upon a system. One of the penetrating questions she asked was “Where does treatment end and enhancement begin?”, noting that the medical community has to pathologize the thing that changes in order for "treating" it to become acceptable practice (e.g.., the [acceptable] use of antidepressants required pathologizing grief, stomach staples required pathologizing obesity, leading one to wonder about the pathologization that is implicit or explicit in a variety of procedures and medicines to impart “sexual super powers”, e.g., boob jobs, gender reassignment, sex enhancer drugs and even IUDs ... or whether pathologization of aging will be required for approval of drugs intended to mimic the effects of calorie restriction ... although I suppose the effects of aging may well be pathological). Questioning the arbitrary line between acceptable enhancement and unfair advantage, Quinn cited a Slate article on “If steroids are cheating, why isn’t Lasik?” … leading me to reflect on the notion of cheating in general, which seems to be becoming more acceptable, and even expected, in society (e.g., game cheats).

Speaking of acceptability and society, I neglected to mention the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Awards on Tuesday night in my earlier post on ETech. Initially, I was a bit dismayed to learn that I had to pay $35 above and beyond the conference registration fee in order to attend, but it was well worth the donation to hear the contributions – and acceptance speeches – of Bruce Schneier, Yochai Benkler and Cory Doctorow. The debate between Mark Cuban, the owner of HDNet, and Fred von Lohmann, EFF's senior IP attorney, about "Copyright, YouTube, and the future of Web 2.0", was worthwhile, but Cory's acceptance speech really stood out ... in fact, it was so moving that I decided to join the EFF … and christen my MacBook Pro cover with its first sticker: an EFF decal (obviously, with my previously pristine Mac, I'm not -- or, at least, wasn't -- one of the cool kids at ETech ... maybe this is the start of a new phase :-) ).

Etechafterpic And speaking of cool kids at ETech, I started noticing early on during the conference that some people were wearing ID badges that had names other than the names I typically associate with those people (Marty Graham, as Michael Adams, posting as Dylan Tweney, also wrote about this in Wired ... and just like Marty/Michael/Dylan, I, too, was finally invited to swap [on the last day], ending up with Matt Biddulph's tag). I also noticed early on that the door attendants would periodically walk down the aisles during some talks and look for ID badges among the people already seated (and listening to a presentation ... er, or blogging, chatting, emailing or otherwise engaged in the digital world ... after all this was ETech). I was wondering whether this ID swapping meme was a reaction to this rather vigilant checking of IDs, or simply part of the fun, games and magic that pervaded much of the conference. We had similar episodes of people swapping (or stealing) RFID tags during our proactive display deployment at UbiComp 2003, which resulted in some interesting actions, interactions and reactions when the displays would show profile information associated with people other than the people wearing the tags. We didn't have any such displays at ETech 2007, but I do wonder what kinds of gaming behaviors might arise in the context of a deployment among such a group of hackers ... perhaps we can arrange to deploy some next generation proactive displays at next year's ETech.