Tuesday, December 19, 2006

This post has been prompted by Lexington Green, who was kind enough to give me a nudge via email.

Recently, Chris Anderson, the editor of WIRED magazine and author of The Long Tail , had a recent " thought" post proposing radical transparency as an innovative vehicle for Wired magazine, which he followed up with further thoughts. While Anderson was concerned with print media becoming more interactive, his prescriptions have widespread application to different types of organizations, particularly those in which the manipulation of knowledge is a critical skill-set.

Show who we are.
Show what we are working on.
"Process as Content."
Privilege the crowd.
Let readers decide what is best
Wikify everything.

Anderson's "tactics" represent a nice synthesis of ideas that have been emerging in various tech centered fields in recent years that Chris has welded together to make a media hybrid that fuses a traditional "gatekeeper" controlled, closed shop media with new "open-source" production trends. Applied to a magazine like WIRED, this is a strategy for media modularity.

Chris' post elicited two responses that extended the discussion. Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine insightfully suggested:

"Ah, but those two tactics still separate the magazine from the crowd. It’s still about commenting on what the magazine does (’but enough about you…’). Go the next step, Chris: Recognize that the crowd has stuff to say that may have nothing to do with what the magazine may be working on but that is of value to the rest. Or as a group, they have information that is valuable to the group. I’ve been saying I want to know the best-selling books among New Yorker readers. I also want to know the best-selling phones among Wired readers (and why).
The magazine is the crowd."

This is using a conversation to build a community, albeit a virtual one; which, if more transient than a physical community, is also more dynamic, flatter and trends toward a higher velocity of conceptual transactions. Strengthening communty ties (i.e. building a social network) as outlined by Jeff cultivates a sense of primary loyalty in members by the psychological attachment created when membership in the community helps individuals satisfy their needs.

John Robb moved the dialogue to a new domain, national security, when he tied the transparency tactics to building societal resilience and increasing moral cohesion:

"Within the context of 21st century warfare, moral cohesion and innovation (particularly given open source opponents) have emerged as paramount concerns. Up until now, nation-states have relied on propaganda to mobilize the public for war and maintain the effort. In parallel, black box decision making has been relied upon to produce ongoing improvements in capabilities/technology. However, in this long war, these methods are more of a liability than an asset. Propaganda has proven to be both ineffective and harmful (see my critique: "Propaganda Wars" for more on this) -- and -- black box decision making has yet to yield any meaningful improvements in capabilities. In my view, an update to our decision making process (to take advantage of vastly superior information flows) through radical transparency would be a far superior means of maintaining our moral cohesion and innovation over the long haul."

In the early Cold War years, when the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcasts were first being made, there was considerable internal USG debate as to whether to use these media organizations as vehicles for black propaganda and disinformation campaigns against the Soviet Bloc or to keep their journalistic mission uncontaminated by PSYOPS meddling. Forgoing the short-term benefits of crude propaganda paid longterm dividends as the credibility of these organizations gave them believability, authenticity and most importantly - moral authority -in the eyes of their target audience. It wasn't so much that the Soviet nomenklatura that tuned in to the VOA on their illegally imported foreign radios thought that everything Western media reported was true -they just knew most of what their own Communist media reported was false. Credibility once lost, is lost.

Decentralized input of information and analysis accelerates the correction of mistaken assumptions. Transparency enhances credibility and discourages shilling by the negative feedback it immediately produces so decisions produced carry greater weight for having been systematically vetted by an unforgivingly ruthless process of open examination that respects the cultural norms of official institutions to a far smaller degree. This does not guarantee perfection or prevent all errors, blind spots can be a collective as well as an individual phenomenon, but it reduces some of the wanton distortion of insider groupthink.


"Open Source Center Runs Closed Intel Shop" -Shloky

"Getting wiki with it " - Haft Of The Spear

"Breaking the analyst / collector divide" and "Google adds Wiki to the Blog" -Kent's Imperative

"Security: Power To The People" - John Robb

"Of Moral Resilience and Technical Resilience" - Opposed System Design


"The virtuous circle on security: the slippery slope to resiliency" - Thomas P.M. Barnett

"Civilizations, Complexity & Resilience" - Stephen DeAngelis

"Self-organizing Rule Sets" - Stephen DeAngelis
Chris Anderson's list of tactics is extremely similar to my small foray into management. That was before the internet, mostly face-to-face. But the general idea is the same:

Have a well-understood objective
Let everyone on the team know what everyone else is doing.
Not quite sure about this, but process was an important part of our tactics.
Hey! They were the ones doing the work! (This includes the last three of Chris's points. It was a great feeling for all of us for the workers to come up with the proposals on how to get to the goal and for me to see what great people were working for me.)

It really works, and it's fun and makes everyone feel good.


"It really works, and it's fun and makes everyone feel good."

Except for those managers who rely more on the authority of their hierarchical position than they do knowledge or skill-sets to command respect. This kind of paradigm is threatening to their status.

As you had knowledge and skills, you could self-confidently implement such a system. Not sure if this would be welcomed everywhere but I agree, it would be a heck of a lot more fun.
"Except for those managers who rely more on the authority of their hierarchical position than they do knowledge or skill-sets to command respect."

It really comes down to: if the manager is a theory X or theory Y type of person.
Well, yeah, I eventually got thrown out of that job. But my team made it clear they didn't want me to go.

"Well, yeah, I eventually got thrown out of that job"

Ha! Been there. When an organization is healthy, getting canned is usually a result of incompetence but when the organization is dysfunctional, getting fired is usually a mark of personal excellence.
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