The extremes of transparency


To over simplify the issue of transparency – there are two extremes. One that hides a truth; the other that reveals too much. And the importance of the truth changes with the social, technical, economic, and political context.

In both extremes, the circumstance matters. Does lying on a resume that you have a degree in computer science matter when applying for a counter job at Burger King? The fact that you lied certainly should, what you lied about lesser so. Do the same thing as the new CEO of Yahoo, and both the action and substance matter more.

It appears that Scott Thompson has been telling his lie, or at least not being fully transparent with the truth, for a while. On radio programs, in conversations, and on his resume to Yahoo during the recruiting process.

The level of the job is one aspects that changes the circumstances around “full transparency”, but being in the computer industry and the expectations of senior management weigh heavily on the discussion.

As does the expectation that such a thing would be caught in the vetting process. Given the importance of the CEO job, (certainly at Yahoo and at this time in their history), it would be expected that a complete and thorough review of the candidates would take place. In fact, the board of directors did have one of it’s members (Patti Hart) leading the search, and a prominent recruiting firm as well. Both failed to catch this issue and bring it to light. Ms. Hart has since resigned.

Which is the greater sin – hiding the truth or the failure to catch it?

This is a question experience marketing caretakers must think about. Do your presenters, exhibitors, executives, special guests have secrets or hidden truths that are germane to their character or role with the events? Do they have the education, experience, and background claimed; have they written those case studies and white papers? The lesson from Yahoo so far is that the one who should be “catching” the transgression is as, or more, likely to pay the price.

As such, do you need to ask more, check more, reveal more about the program and the people involved? As the host, it may be implied (or clearly stated) that you are endorsing the content, people, and experience taking place. And the rise of user-generated content means more sources to review. How are you validating that nothing relevant is being hidden?

The other extreme is when too much is revealed.

While some believe that Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels promote transparency as a path towards integrity, they also make it so much easier to share that at times too much is revealed too quickly.

Just ask Spike Lee.

The home address of a person named George Zimmerman may not be relevant to most of the world, most of the time, but it was when Mr. Lee released it to his 250,000 followers on Twitter. Why, because Mr. Zimmerman had shot and killed Trayvon Martin while part of a neighborhood watch program.

Why Spike Lee shared this information reveals once again the importance of context to the discussion of transparency. Given the highly charged political environment surrounding the shooting, it was speculated what Mr. Lee was looking for, or at least assisting anyone who might be looking for, “justice”. Likely vigilantly justice.

When does revealing information, even relatively easy to find information, “cross the line”? How hard would it had been to find the address of George Zimmerman? Spike’s actions were again less about the information, and more about sharing too much.

As part of ensuring your event has nothing to hide, how do you avoid revealing too much? Do you share when a speaker doesn’t have the degree they claim? What about a criminal background, law suit, or bankruptcy? Did they plagiarise the case study, or fake the data in the white paper? It is a fine line, but a necessary line to define. Let’s call it the “thin clear line”.

While it would be almost impossible to vet every person, every claim, and every action related to your event, it is important to prepare for situations like these and their consequences. It is likely that someone will “out” some thing related to your event – what will be your stance or position once the truth is revealed? Did you “do enough” and are you ready to react?

Further caution needs to be taken when it is not actually the “truth” that is revealed.

In the case of the address Spike Lee shared with his 250,000 followers (for reasons that may have been less than generous in nature), it turned out to be the wrong George Zimmerman. It was the home of a couple whose only connection to the case was having a son with a similar name. They were forced to relocate from their home after Mr. Lee’s tweet due to fear for their safety.

As Patti Hart – the board member at Yahoo – learned, there is a price to pay for failure to discover if you are seen as the one who should have known. Spike Lee also found out there can be a real price to pay for revealing too much – he settled financially with the couple.

UPDATE: Scott Thompson has resigned from Yahoo but the impact continues.


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  1. […] story that keeps giving and giving. As told in teh blog entry The Extremes of Transparency, the George Zimmerman case has taken a few twists and turns. First, Spike Lee shares a wring […]