For Your Eyes Only! Top Secret! Security Clearance Required! Do Not Distribute! Need to Know Information Only!
All of these ominous declarations are bold warnings that “Secrets Are Being Kept” and that “Information is Being Restricted” — and that only a few people should know everything about any specific situation. But, to what purpose? Why should we be keeping so many secrets?
The “common wisdom” is that secrets protect us. That somehow a secret gives us control. That secrets ensure that others cannot exploit or extort us. That a secret kept is an advantage gained.
As a result, keeping secrets is deeply embedded in our human nature. It is normal for children to hide problematic truth from their parents and for parents to shield their children from unpleasant realities. Many of the games we play rely on secrecy to win. Keeping and uncovering secrets is at the heart of social gossip and conversation. Secret revelations are often the heartbeat of a good story and captivating theater. And, thus it is not surprising that many leaders believe they are more effective at their work if they can effectively keep and manage secrets. Leaders exert a significant amount of effort forging new secrets, keeping current secrets hidden, and mitigating the awkward damage that the unplanned revelation of secrets can cause.
But, for leaders, this preoccupation with secret-keeping is counter-productive. And the belief that secrets enhance our leadership effectiveness is misguided! More often than not…
• Secrets limit our leadership effectiveness;
• Secrets expose us to danger and mishap;
• Secrets undermine our ability to control our destiny;
• Secrets erode and corrupt our culture; and,
• Secrets drive wedges between people who need to work together.
As a result, highly effective leaders work towards transparency – resisting the temptation of secrecy by revealing rather than hiding information, by trusting others with information rather than being suspicious; and, by welcoming rather than squelching open dissent and debate.
Specifically, there are 7 Myths that leaders often embrace to justify limiting information and hiding the truth. Each myth seems to be well intentioned. And, like all myths, there are hints of truth rooted within these fallacies. But, for each of these myths, effective leaders have discovered that a greater benefit can be found in transparency. It is worthwhile to examine each of these seven myths one by one…
As always, however, a few caveats must be recognized. Keeping secrets or limiting information is not always wrong and there is a place and a time for mystery…
• When transparency will do nothing but embarrass or harm another person, a secret kept may be a good thing;
• When transparency enables a true villain or enemy to render harm, it may be imperative to keep information secret;
• And, if secrecy is required now in the short term so that a greater future benefit can be realized, it may be appropriate to protect a secret;
But, for the most part, leaders need to keep fewer secrets and embrace greater transparency. Consider the following…
Common Myth #1: Secrecy protects the PRIVACY of individuals!
Uncommon Wisdom: Transparency protects FAIRNESS and EQUITY for individuals!
Without question, a person deserves to have personal information about themselves withheld from public view. But, except for the most intimate of information to which a leader might be privy – a staff member’s emotional struggles, a family member’s conflicts, etc. – what secrets truly benefit the individual?
- Many will argue that salary information is a private matter. And, yet the only reason that salary is a sensitive issue for people is because of injustices embedded within. One organization, for example, feverishly protected salary data as a private individual matter – and, yet the truth was that employee pay varied wildly with low performers sometimes paid more than high performers, men paid more than women, and new workers paid more than long term employees. The lack of transparency did not protect individuals, but rather it hurt them without them knowing it. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all was that employees eventually discovered these massive discrepancies and the organization’s vehement defense of secrecy was widely recognized as deception.
- Performance data is often kept secret to supposedly protect employees from being labeled as “underperformers” or being embarrassed about their personal failures. And yet, this means that low performers often struggle to improve without the benefit of coaching or mentoring from their peers, while high performers are never challenged to help their teammates. In high functioning organizations, team members know how their colleagues are performing, but they are also incented and encouraged as a team to work together as a team to help everyone improve.
- Even complaints and criticisms that an employee raises might be better treated with transparency rather than secrecy. Make no mistake, if a whistleblower comes forward to report inappropriate or illegal behavior, their confidentiality must be kept secret to protect them. But, by the time a person resorts to whistleblower protections, the organization is already badly damaged and there are already secrets embedded within. A much healthier environment is when a leader invites – and truly welcomes – critique and dissent. Leaders who openly and humbly answer their naysayers, admit their mistakes, and seek to improve in front of all their followers, build trust and support.
- In personal life, medical information is often cited as a clear need for privacy. Sadly, much of this so-called “need” for medical privacy is driven by social stigma – an AIDS patient might be discriminated against, a mental health patient might be denied a promotion, and so on. When it comes to provide equitable care for all, this drive for “too much privacy” is dangerous for patients – doctors are not sharing information between each other to improve coordination of care, neighbors who are unaware that another neighbor is sick cannot provide assistance or can not help to monitor the status of the ill person, patients have a difficult time switching care providers if needed, and so on. Improving health care actually requires increased transparency in order for providers, friends, and family to deliver coordinated and informed care for all.
In short, the most common reason leaders might strive to protect the privacy of an individual is because we have already wronged them or we might wrong them in the future – we are paying employees inequitably, we are isolating staff members when they struggle, we are rebuking individuals who hold contrarian views, we might discriminate against someone for their health status in the future, and so on. Conversely, a culture of true transparency and openness could replace these wrongs with a sense of FAIRNESS and EQUITY for all – equal compensation, equal mentoring, equal access to senior leaders, equal health care coordination, and more. But, this equality actually requires transparency to work. It is the familiar “trust, but verify” mantra – equality requires transparency to be recognized; transparency brings about greater equality; and the cycle continues for the betterment of all.
Common Myth #2: Secrecy safeguards an organization from legal LIABILITY!
Uncommon Wisdom: Transparency builds TRUST which minimizes conflict and reduces the need for legal recourse!
There is an ever-present fear, especially in countries like the USA, of being sued for something we did NOT do wrong. Thanks to a few high-profile – and often misreported – legal cases, the fear is that an innocent person will loose everything for which they have worked because of an unscrupulous attorney representing a greedy plaintiff. Driven by this fear, many leaders are reluctant to share any information that even hints of error or wrongdoing.
This fear extends into personal life as well. We as individuals may not be afraid of legal lawsuits from loved ones or family members, but we are often fearful of “relationship liability” – resentment, jealousy, conflict, and more. So, even in personal life when we make a mistake or we have done something that is questionable, we often rush to conceal that which we have done.
Although understandable, this defensive posture simply exacerbates the problem….
- In business, a frustrated customer asks why a service is substandard or why something has gone wrong; a fearful business leader resists answering for fear of creating liability; the customer assumes there is nefarious behavior to be hidden or that the business does not care…
- In healthcare, a poorly treated patient challenges a doctor; the doctor defends their actions as appropriate and implies they should not be questioned; the patient assumes the doctor is concealing the truth or is incompetent…
- In a family, a spouse is concerned about a financial shortfall and takes out a payday loan without telling their loved ones; when money is short the next week after the loan is paid back, the crisis escalates; if the hidden loan is discovered, assumptions are made that the money is being used for unworthy expenses and distrust builds; and so on.
When something has gone wrong, “liability” for that wrongdoing already exists. It is how a wrong person reacts that can create double jeopardy for the wrong-doer. Sadly, a lack of transparency will generate doubt, doubt generates questions, unanswered questions lead to distrust, distrust generates anger, and anger results in conflict and retribution.
Research has shown that retribution and legal litigation are not a person’s first choice. Most frustrated or aggrieved individuals want three simple things – the Three A’s — from the vendors, the businesses, or the loved ones who have done something wrong…
- ANSWERS that are truthful and complete as to why a mistake or mishap occurred;
- APOLOGIES for the mishap, mistake, or misunderstanding
- ACTIONS to address or at least mitigate the pain and trouble that resulted.
But, this requires that a leader is forthcoming and transparent. Step by step it requires a leader – whether in business, government, or family — to…
- REVEAL openly and completely “what” and the “why” of the mistake or mishap that happened;
- ADMIT humbly the role they played, the actions they took, or the actions they failed to take that contributed to the situation;
- SACRIFICE their own self-interest to help the wronged person recover.
Once again, with this second myth, it is transparency, not secrecy, that is the prequel to success. If a leader can build a habit and a culture of transparency, distrust will evaporate. And where there is trust…confrontational litigation, retribution, and conflict will be seldom and small.
Common Myth #3: Secrecy ensures a STRATEGIC ADVANTAGE required to beat current competitors!
Uncommon Wisdom: Transparency enables COLLABORATION that can create competitive advantage both now and for the long term!
A capitalistic society is built on competitive forces – doing better than other organizations by building better products, working more efficiently to lower costs, creating a better work culture to attract greater talent, and so on. Does it require a bit of secrecy to win this game of economic or market competition? Yes!
In politics or government, new ideas need to time to ferment and politicians need opportunities to build support and understanding for their proposals. Does this require a bit of upfront discretion so that early ideas that might be poorly conceived do not spoil later discussions of value? Yes!
In families, do parents sometimes require time to plan a vacation, consider a job switch, or research the possibility of moving to a new home without every other family member immediately offering conflicting points of view that might not be too helpful? Certainly!
But, this lack of transparency is valuable only in the short term and should not be carried to an extreme. For example…
- Many businesses develop their strategies in closed rooms where the majority of employees are excluded rather than involved in the process. This exclusion might even be driven by a legitimate fear – that involving more people in the process of developing a strategy increases the risk of leaks or even outright defections. (This fear was best captured during World War II with the popular slogan that “Loose Lips Sink Ships”. But, this converts employees into “takers” and “followers” rather than “authors” and “contributors” to an organization’s success. And, these organizations are often then plagued by a lack of buy-in or enthusiasm for their strategies that are set in secret. In fact, this secrecy often enflames conflict as union leaders, employees, business partners, or even customers begin to question the intent and the purpose of strategies once they are announced.
- Many politicians work to manipulate the political system for their advantage – taking their opponents by surprise with a new announcement, keeping non-supporters from wanting to vote, developing proposals behind closed doors and so on. The theory is that politics is war and/or a game to be won. In such a world, secrecy and a lack of transparency are powerful weapons. But, the only guaranteed outcome of “opposition politics” or “confrontational politics” is that divisions between political leaders become hardwired and that much of the electorate will oppose any proposal.
- Likewise, in personal life, many people take a need to know approach to their personal planning for the future. Children often hide their plans from parents; parents keep their children in the dark; neighbors don’t tell neighbors they are building a fence until the posts are dug; and so on. This lack of transparency is driven by a “fight or flight” response – we don’t want to confront what might be an uncomfortable discussion. But, truth will eventually be revealed and it is not uncommon that the secrecy and surprise causes far more conflict and resentment than the plans that are actually being made.
In all of these walks of life, transparency is the one path forward that holds the promise of truly improving long term results. Whether in government, business, or neighborhoods, collaboration is the secret to truly great, rather than just good, outcomes. We have always been told that “two minds are better than one” and this adage is true! More insights, more perspectives, more enthusiasm, and more helping hands will help create the best possible results in any situation. But, transparency must come before collaboration…
- Transparency of new ideas and original intent is required to generate initial interest and empathy amongst potential naysayers.
- Transparency in the planning and developing of ideas into action is required to let differing viewpoints be heard and improvements to an idea take hold.
- Transparency during the implementation of a new proposal is necessary to generate public support and even to allow the “public” (employees, neighbors, politicians) to become a watchdog during the implementation to guarantee that intended results actually happen.
Make no mistake – there are malicious people in the world who will work against a leader no matter how good an idea might be. And, there are times when a leader will loose some control over their strategy or tactics as more people become involved. But most of the greatest business successes are the result of collaborations where information and ideas have been shared rather than secreted – consider, for example, the open architecture of Android phones which is behind 90% of all smart phones today. The most unifying and lasting government initiatives have always been the result of cross-spectrum cooperation not political warfare. And the strongest communities are those that openly vet their concerns and work together for a common good. Leaders must move towards greater transparency if they want their long term efforts to be successful and if they want to achieve truly break-through results.
Common Myth #4: Secrecy protects MORALE when negative developments and dire situations arise!
Uncommon Wisdom: Transparency guarantees CONFIDENCE that leaders are alert and ready to act as needed!
No one likes to be the bearer of bad news!
First of all, no one likes to be the “bad guy” who shares bad news. But, more significantly, bad news triggers our most primal instincts. Whether it be a business slump that threatens jobs, or a government policy that is not working, or uncertain times for a family, bad news is a threat to our security and our comfort. And, when we are threatened, our natural instincts – fight, flight, etc. – kick into high gear.
For leaders, the challenge is multiplied…
- Leaders who convey bad news to their colleagues must also then find a way forward in the midst of trouble. Bad news, therefore, is almost always an immediate leadership problem to be solved.
- Leaders must deal with both their own feelings as well as those of their staff and colleagues. First of all, bad news may put a leader at risk more than anyone else – a business leader confronting bad finances may be replaced, a politician who bears bad news might take the blame, and so on. But secondly, the people to whom the bad news is given will struggle with their emotions as well. At the very moment in time that a leader may be tempted to fight or flee or be paralyzed as they deal with their own concerns and emotions, the leader must confront the same emotions emanating from their staff and stakeholders.
- Similarly, leaders may suffer a crisis of confidence if their own actions contributed to the bad news. In other words, conveying bad news may also be a confession of culpability which would be uncomfortable for anyone.
A common response to bad news, therefore, is to hide the news…to shield others from the harsh realities that might exist. This paternalistic response temporarily allows a leader to minimize negative reactions from their colleagues, but it also allows the leader to avoid fully confronting the negative situation themselves. This lack of transparency takes many forms…
- SILENCING – Hoping that “no news” will be good news, a leader simply chooses to share nothing and to keep stakeholders in the dark. It is the hope that a bad situation will fix itself. Or that delaying bad news will give the leader time to think and react.
- SPINNING – Making bad news look like good news (or at least “less bad” news) by carefully shaping how a message is conveyed. This can be a principled effort to help people see both sides of a situation – good and bad. It can also be a deceptive effort to distort the truth and soften the news so that stakeholders do not have an honest (even if harsh) picture of reality.
- SUPPRESSING – Conveying only the good news in any given situation. This is a combination of both “silencing” and “spinning” – sharing no bad news and using only good news to shape the thinking of stakeholders. Derivatives of this technique are very common – putting the bad news in fine print, allowing a senior leader to share good news while more junior staff must explain negative details, sending bad news in a follow-up email after a meeting where only good news was shared, and so on.
- SEQUESTERING – Sharing bad news only with an inner circle of “need to know” people. The assumption is that selectively sharing information will allow key stakeholders to begin responding to the bad news, while most stakeholders are simultaneously shielded from unpleasant realities. It is the old belief that “what you don’t know can’t hurt you!”
Regardless of the approach, trying to shield stakeholders from bad news will almost always fail in the long term. Without question, a leader can delay unpleasantness by refusing to be transparent with stakeholders…
- A business leader can devise a response and a strategy before they are forced to reveal the problems they are facing;
- A political leader can likewise craft a response or shift blame if they can control negative messages; and,
- A family member can delay sorrow or anger if they delay the conveyance of bad news.
But in the long run, the result of a “delay” is not much different than deception, denial, or indecision – all of which hurt morale significantly. In other words, an effort to protect morale in the moment by hiding information is likely to do far more damage to morale over time…
- Imagine a business where senior leaders recognize the need to dramatically cut costs, but employees are kept in the dark. Front line staff might be planning expenditures, booking travel, and hiring new staff while senior leaders are preparing to reduce jobs, restrict travel, and cut budgets. The negative results are multiple. First, the business looses valuable response time – spending continues apace while the news is delayed. Second, front line supervisors are caught off guard and must reverse decisions which makes them look either incompetent or untrusted by senior leaders, thus creating schisms across an organization. And third, once senior leaders do make their draconian budget cuts or restrictions, all other stakeholders feel shut out of the decision-making process and are likely to resist and complain no matter how necessary those business decision might have been.
- In politics, a government leader might try to hide the negative results of a new policy or a broken bureaucracy that is not serving the public well. Once the truth is revealed, the government leader’s reputation will be damaged by the delay. The leader will either be labeled as a deceiver (not trustworthy enough to tell the truth), as a buffoon (not savvy enough to recognize the truth), or as a failure (not smart enough to deal with the truth). Regardless of the perceptions, the end result will be an electorate that loses confidence in their leaders’ ability to succeed.
- In a family or a small community, individuals who hide the truth create a cloud of suspicion and distrust. If a parent fails to share bad news with a child, the young one will always wonder what is NOT being said. If a child conceals bad news from a parent, the parent will look harder in the future for hidden secrets. A spouse who hides financial trouble from their partner might be viewed as untrustworthy or as manipulative, even if they meant well.
It is transparency, not secrecy, that is the best defense against low morale in difficult times. A leader who calmly reveals the challenges, the downsides, and the risks of a negative situation, as well as the possibilities for enduring or overcoming those negatives, will gain multiple advantages in terms of morale…
- CREDIBILITY: The leader who is honest, even with bad news, is believable when times are good. Second guessing of a leader’s intentions or hidden agendas evaporates in the light of transparency.
- CONFIDENCE: A leader who admits early that there are difficult problems to be faced becomes a reassurance to their staff, colleagues, and stakeholders that the leader is aware and ready for action. People want to know that their leader “has their back” and transparency is strong evidence that it is so.
- CONCERN: A leader who directly confronts the most difficult issues is free to show empathy and concern for their staff in those difficult times. Once again, people want to know that their bosses care and transparency is the best way to demonstrate true and honest concern for others. Similarly, a leader who openly explains the challenges they are facing is also more likely to be the recipient of compassion from their staff – usually demonstrated as a willingness to make extra effort, a willingness to contribute ideas and suggestions, and a willingness to help their peers deal with the challenges of the moment.
It is a well known fact that employees quit bosses, not jobs. Employees will stay with a great boss through difficult times. But, a great boss is always one who is hard at work both for the greater good and for the individual employee. Transparency is one of the best tools to communicate a great boss’s efforts to their team.
Common Myth #5: Secrecy shields people from the distractions, CONFUSION, and undue burdens that too much information can cause!
Uncommon Wisdom: Transparency facilitates CLARITY of purpose and direction by avoiding the speculation, assumption, and misunderstandings caused by incomplete information!
There is no kind or politically correct way to explain this myth. Believing that another stakeholder is incapable of understanding or prioritizing information, even if somewhat complex and tangential to their individual responsibilities, is nothing but condescending. Or, believing that more information will distract a person from their main job or their main area of focus is treating a person as nothing more than a piece of machinery incapable of multi-tasking or broader thinking. And yet, this belief amongst leaders that “I am so much smarter than my staff or my customers or my colleagues” is pervasive.
- In business this paternalistic approach to leadership is often evident in the hierarchical org structure that defines most organizations. A CEO communicates with executive leaders who communicate with supervisors who communicate with staff – and at each level the communication is further and further filtered and diminished. It is not that every single detail must be shared with every stakeholder; but, most organizational structures isolate the front line from the executive leadership and vice versa. In other words, in an attempt to protect the frontline from too much information, most organizations suffer from too little information being shared.
- In government and politics, this takes the form of selective communication – politicians sharing only the information THEY want the constituents to know. Politicians will often say that the electorate “only cares about their own personal concerns” – paychecks, health care, education, etc. But, this allows politicians to abdicate one of their most sacred responsibilities – to educate and guide the public on what is important. Politicians often decry that young people are no longer well educated in civics and government; yet it is often the politicians themselves who try to dumb down information so as not be challenged or confronted with contrarian points of view.
- And, in our personal lives, the unwillingness to share information or the desire to filter heavily what we tell our loved ones and our friends is often driven by an extreme over-protectiveness – that if we can somehow diminish information itself, we can diminish the pain or the frustration it might cause. Once again, hiding information might shield someone from unpleasantness for a short while, but eventually truth will be told and pain will be suffered.
In reality, this tendency to protect people from “too much information” actually exposes individuals to failure and risk. Research has shown in many walks of life that more information enables people to make better decisions. Transparency does not injure or overload a person; rather, transparency equips and prepares a person to be successful. For example…
- Several business studies have shown that the most common reason for failure is that staff are in the dark; that too little information has been shared with them. These same studies all come to the same conclusion — that specific and comprehensive information will lead to success. Again, this information does NOT necessarily need to be exhaustively detailed – every specific instruction, deadline, or schematic. But, this information DOES need to be broad and sweeping. Many consultants have taught that addressing this lack of information simply requires a leader to answer the “Big 6” questions – what, who, why, how, where, and when. If you share this information – especially the “why” – people are then smart enough to figure out how to be successful and how to contribute to the greater good.
- In community development, it has long been proven that a more educated and involved public will be more supportive of new policies and programs because confusion will be minimized and questions will be answered.
- Likewise, in cases of public and family health, it has been proven that more information enables people to make better decisions about sanitation, health care, and even end-of-life decisions. In fact, a well informed patient tends to make much smarter decisions about health care – usually choosing less invasive and less expensive care – than a patient who is kept in the dark.
In other words, transparency and the sharing of more information with stakeholders does not confuse; rather it clarifies what any individual can and must do to help their organization, their leaders, and even themselves prosper and succeed.
Common Myth #6: Secrecy defends our INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY from theft or infringement!
Uncommon Wisdom: Transparency invites continuous IMPROVEMENT in products and services that are offered!
This myth is technically true – at the most basic level. If you have a patentable idea or a secret formula that is key to success, then you probably will not want to share it openly with others. You will guard it carefully and hide it away for none but the few to see.
Unfortunately, it is common for leaders to extend this idea of protecting intellectual property to an extreme – assuming that a person’s individual talents, knowledge, and expertise should also be guarded and protected from view. For example, many consultants would not publish an article such as this one if they could also use this information privately to enhance their consulting work and to charge their clients more money for proprietary information. The argument is that a unique idea must be horded and hidden – thus creating scarcity for that idea, which then makes it more valuable, which then allows the consultant to charge more money for their consulting time.
But, intellectual property should not be confused with general intelligence, creativity, or leadership. When we build walls around our ideas and our insights, rather than sharing them transparently, we severely erode our ability to create better ideas, clearer insights, and better leadership. In short, when we draw the line and refuse to share information broadly, we stop the creative process. We hinder an idea from evolving to a better idea. As leaders we hunker down around today’s status quo and insulate our selves from better ideas or from better approaches to leadership.
Conversely, if we embrace transparency by sharing information and by inviting critique and collaboration…we break open the creative process for many to contribute. Even quasi-competitors can become contributors to a better idea. Perhaps the most visible evidence that transparency can be an overwhelmingly powerful tool for building better products and services are the trends towards…
- Crowdsourcing – allowing thousands of people to submit ideas, offer critique, and support the development of a product;
- Open Sourcing – providing technical specs to software or equipment and then inviting others to create add-on value products such as apps for a phone or add-on niche products that add value to a main product;
- Minimally Viable Products – releasing products in a prototype phase and then allowing the public to offer criticisms and suggestions to make the product better.
In short, there is more value in “doing”…
- a consultant modifying advice to a customer based on new circumstances and problems;
- an inventor creating ever newer versions of an old invention or entirely new inventions altogether;
- an engineer sharing new theories with other professionals to prove and improve the theory;
- and so on…
rather than “hunkering”…
- consultant just selling old concepts to new customers;
- an inventor doing nothing more than enforcing old patents;
- a story teller telling the same story over and over again with no new plots or works to publish.
Without a doubt, sharing knowledge can be risky and there are some individuals who will take another person’s idea or insight and try to claim it is entirely their own. But, moving to greater transparency, even with a few guardrails to protect original insights, holds the promise of truly great breakthrough inventions and ideas. It is somewhat like the infamous move from good to great. You can achieve good results by being the protector of proprietary information, but only for those with whom you work directly. You can achieve great outcomes by working with many collaborators and unlocking the power of many minds and many people.
Common Myth #7: Secrecy is the fundamental cornerstone of providing SECURITY when danger or threats persist.
Uncommon Wisdom: Transparency creates VISIBILITY which reduces the opportunity for nefarious activity.
Once again, there is certainly truth in this common belief that security requires secrecy. In the battlefield, surprise is often the lynchpin of victory. In the justice system, unseen video cameras often hold the key to uncovering a crime or a lie. In corporate circles being able to keep unscrupulous competitors from infiltrating secret files is paramount to success.
But, even with security, transparency can be an unlikely and powerful ally in the pursuit of safety. A recent trend in consumer products that exemplifies this opportunity is the advent of home monitoring systems such as RING – the televised doorbell system (now embellished with many other devices) that allows a person to see who might be approaching their door.
Prior to RING, home security systems were alarm based systems – if someone broke into your house, an alert would be sent to monitoring center with full time employees who would then notify the local sheriff, police, or authorities. These systems worked only after a violation of property had occurred – window breaking, door opening, and so on. There would be no alert if a burglar simply approached a property to check for vulnerabilities. Furthermore, homeowners would be reluctant to authorize the police to check out an alarm for fear that the alarm might be false and thus a waste of time for overworked law enforcement officers. The underlying premise of these older security systems was to control the flow of information from a person’s property to law enforcement through the proprietary monitoring center. Even the homeowner was somewhat excluded from the flow of information in these vintage systems.
RING — and other systems like it — works on the concept of transparency. Information is widely and frequently shared with the homeowner and neighbors as well as law enforcement. A RING doorbell, for example, activates as soon as a person approaches a door. The homeowner is notified of the activity and can look at the doorbell camera to see if the person is a vendor, a friend, or a stranger – and the homeowner does not need to even be at home to do so. The homeowner then has the power to determine an appropriate response, including a call to law enforcement. The homeowner can also share their information with neighbors so that many eyes can watch for inappropriate patterns of behavior or activity within an entire neighborhood. And because the RING systems are becoming more ubiquitous, criminals are learning to stay away from those properties.
The transparency of the RING system is able to add even more value by also capturing problematic, even if not illegal behavior and happenings – animals trying to get into a garage, delivery vehicles accidently backing into a fence, and even severe weather events that might blow down a tree or damage other property.
This concept has been adopted by law enforcement agencies as well, whether it be “Amber Alerts” or “See Something, Say Something” campaigns.
Secrecy may have been an advantage in times of lesser technologies. But, in today’s high tech world, the primary approach to safety should probably be an assumption of sharing information broadly and openly – allowing the masses to help protect our communities together — rather than trying to rely on secrecy and surprise alone.
Admittedly, there is a place for secrecy and limiting information. But, the pendulum should swing away from secrecy as the norm and towards transparency as our default position. We should assume first that we will share information rather than being biased towards hording or restricting the flow of information. It takes time to make the shift. Transparency is about honesty, trust, vulnerability, collaboration, and taking risks. There will be times when a transparent leader is exploited by others with less noble intentions. But, if a leader wants to truly achieve great things, they will make the shift over time.