Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections on Reflections on Working in Public

When we launched our Collaboratory, I mentioned that it's part web presence, part social business experiment. For now, the most experimental part is the window on our work-- a live stream of communication acts our team engages in, offering up varying degrees of information from having shared an unnamed file on a particular platform to emailing someone at a certain domain to tweeting specific, visible content. 

There are massive individual differences in comfort with transparency. As my team has spent the past few weeks sussing out the comfort zone with the public now privy to the stream, we've reflected on, discussed, and critiqued our perceptions. We're very curious what it's like on the other side of the window... What do you think about our transparency? Too much? Not really that much? Want more? 

Transparency can have a profound effect on behavior. Perhaps not a universal effect. Ironically, the psych study that comes to mind is an old great of Ken Gergen's: Deviance in the Dark (Gergen, Gergen, & Barton, 1973). Gergen was exploring the effect of darkness on behavior. He had students enter a dark room one-by-one, to get to know each other. He provided very few instructions. They chatted, talked more heatedly, and then... eventually the study was called off because it led to some scandalous and unexpectedly affectionate behaviors! Not aggressive ones, as might have been expected. 

I bring this up because of what we know from this and several other studies on deindividuation, or not being able to see or pay attention to individuals as individuals (the opposite of transparency). Deindividuation doesn't necessarily make you aggressive or affectionate, it's a powerful force in making people conform to a perceived norm. This has really interesting implications for transparency in the workplace, especially for leaders and norm-setters. Transparency may not have a single effect - be it competition or collaboration; authenticity or artifice. Read how it's affected my colleagues over the past few weeks and let us know what you think.

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