Magicians, sausage makers and transparency

Does everything have to become completely transparent?

One of the ideas du jour online is the rush to make things transparent. To tear down the barriers and raise the blinds on the way organizations do business and to expose as much as possible.

Does Apple become a more exciting or profitable company if they share their sketches, their plans, open source their new designs and engage the company fully? Does Steve Jobs have an obligation to tell his fanboys in advance that he’s fighting to stay healthy? One journalist says he does because it will help raise money for research, another says he does because it’s a public company, while many of his fans say he does because they demand to know.

What about the Star Trek sequel? Should we be able to read the script now, a year before they start filming?

Does a magician put on a better show if you know how his tricks are done? Do you want to see how your dinner was made, farm to plate? Really?

I look at the transparency issue not as a moral right, but as a business tactic, tool and threat.

1. If you run around acting like the things you do will never been seen in public, you’re going to get busted. Sooner or later, the marketplace is going to see the effects of your actions, and living as if this is certain makes it far more likely that you’ll find a happy ending.

2. Your job as a marketer is to tell a story, which is a lot like putting on a show. If you can use the tools of transparency to tell that story better, do it! But if your audience will enjoy the story more (and your business will be more likely to succeed) if you apply some misdirection and magic, then why not?

Radical transparency often excites people because of the radical part (it’s new! it’s scary!) than the transparent part. Playing poker with your cards face up on the table might get you some attention at first, but in the long run it’s unlikely to help you win a lot of hands.