Print This Post Print This Post

An 18 year old paper in social anthropology by Marilyn Strathern (then at Cambridge) had the intriguing title of ‘The Tyranny of Transparency’. I suspect it will not be well known in management circles because Social Anthropology is seen here as Exotic Travel that ends in a book, followed, if you are lucky, by doing consumer research for Uniliver.

Strathern did indeed do exotic travel. She spent a lot of time in Papua New Guinea, place that has surely seen more anthropologists than indigenous people, and then came back to also exotic United Kingdom where she lectured and wrote. That paper shoots at the nineties government-enlightening discovery of league tables and targets. In particular, for her, the  measurement of the efficiency of university education via number of publications (outputs), quotations (position in the social network of academics) and pupils who want to join a discipline (market demand).

The mantra was, and is, to ‘make it visible’. ‘It’ being the whole complexity of academic life and accompaniment of students with their emotions, feelings, journeys, discoveries, frustrations, rebellions, aha moments, passions, imagination, experiences and learning. The invisible translated into number of publications. And that was even before the current full tripadvisorization of society

It does not take much to draw a parallel with organizational life where Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are dominant, a sign of rigour and a proxy for success of failure. But beyond these shared points with academia and league tables of anything, there was, and is, also the dominant language of ‘transparency’.

In those and other territories, transparency suddenly gets glorified to not least than a key value in itself. We then aim for transparency, so we ask for KPSs. We want the invisible to be visible, and we ask for what can be visible.  But anthropologists, clever observant of the invisible,  may tell you that transparency may in fact conceal reality, a thought almost impossible to conceive in an MBA curriculum.

I have not been in Papua New Guinea myself but have spent years amongst exotic people in the payroll and I have developed a few rules of thumb (let’s call them heuristics to sound smarter), for example:  for everything said, what is the unsaid. As organization architect, I am terribly interested in what is never said, or discussed, or on the table, perhaps taboos with small t or big T. So, for everything transparent, what is that has been concealed? What ‘transparent outcomes’ have in fact let people off the hook, not having to dig into the invisible, perhaps more real?

One of the advantages of Social Anthropology is that it does not owe anything to  managerial logic. So a social anthropologist would tell you without a blink that asking for transparency means trust is low. This logic is not the managerial logic where asking for transparency means ‘evidence’, which means, visibility, which means measuring, usually  what is both measurable and visible. Allow me to provoke this corollary: the more transparency you ask for, the more invisible things you’ll miss; there will be more proxies and more vicarious life. Transparency will be indeed tyrannical, as  Strathern called it. Trust will be eroded, not boosted.

We may be here in the same ‘Organizations wired wrong’ paradoxes of yesterday where input and output are mistaken.

Before you send me to Papua New Guinea for good, let me call it out: transparency is an outcome, a desired state, an output. As outcome, it requires amongst other things high trust. Boost trust, get transparency and you won’t even have to name it. Ask too much for transparency, get  the tyranny of the visible and the concealed realty for which KPIs are the safe solution to management un-thinking.

Wish me safe travels

PS1. For the record, I have never said, I am defending opacity.

PS2. If you make any good of these Daily Thoughts, ‘tell others to tell others’ to subscribe to this list. It’s free. As I said yesterday, you could be annoyed and you are not obliged to agree. But you won’t remain neutral to the topic. That’s the goal. Promise.


Keep up with the Daily Thoughts

Twitter Email

Would you like to comment?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To search my website, please use the form below.

  Daily Thoughts

September 27th, 2023

Redefining Talent Wealth

The war on talent McKinsey consultants started it with a book of the same title. By focusing on what it […]

September 8th, 2023

What I Learnt From The Monks: A Little Anthropology Of Leadership And Space On One Page

My friends, monks of a Benedictine monastery in the Highlands, Scotland, spend most of the time in silence. I mean, […]

August 23rd, 2023

Can We Rescue DEI From Its Trap (The Label)?

Most of the problems and challenges in organizations, together with most of the solutions, are behavioural in nature. It’s about […]

August 10th, 2023

Restructuring to force collaboration, is likely to create more anxiety than collaboration. Structural solutions for behavioural problems hardly work.

Sometimes restructuring is done with the intention of solving a collaboration problem. ´A people´ don’t talk to ´B people´; if […]

July 18th, 2023

The ‘Impossible To Disagree With’ School Of Management

‘Good leaders have empathy, respect employees and set the example. If you want to change things, you need to have […]

June 29th, 2023

Large scale change is not small scale change repeated many times. Small wins repeated are lots of small wins.

Large scale change, as a series of cascading small scale interventions (often under the philosophy of ‘small wins’) has dominated […]

June 6th, 2023

Culture change is not long and difficult. But we make it so…

I suppose the question is how long is long and how difficult is difficult? In general, business and organizational consulting have […]

May 19th, 2023

Value is an overused term in business and, as such, it’s becoming meaningless

Value, as usually used, means transactional monetary value. Usually it doesn’t mean intrinsic value, or value per se. For example, […]

May 4th, 2023

The importance of ‘critical thinking.’ Your own critical thinking is more effective at making your workplace better than any generic employee survey.

Build your own Employee Engagement argument for free. You can’t go wrong. Here are three baskets full of concepts: Basket […]

April 21st, 2023

´Busy-Ness’ Is A Trap

I went to a big conference where I was introduced by the chairman like this: “Welcome everybody. Lovely to have […]

April 14th, 2023

Training and culture change. The love affair that ends in tears.

It seems to be very hard for people to get away from the idea that if we just put individuals […]

April 11th, 2023

Teamocracies and Networkracies have different citizens: in-Habitants in team-work, riders in net-work

The old view of the organization is something close to the old concept of a medieval city, where citizenship was […]

April 5th, 2023

3 Ways To Get Approval From Your CEO Or Your Leadership Team

Way number 1: My team has developed these three options, A, B and C. Which one do you want us […]

March 29th, 2023

A Cheat Sheet To Create A Social Movement Tip = to shape organizational culture since both are the same.

Mobilizing people. This is another of the Holy Grails (how many have I said we have?) in management. Whether you […]

March 16th, 2023

Critical Thinking Self-Test: A 10 Point Health Check For Your Organization And Yourself. If any of these are a good picture of your organization, you need to put ‘critical thinking’ in the water supply.

Test yourself, and your organization. Do any of these apply? Doing lots, too fast without thinking. High adrenaline, not sure […]

March 9th, 2023

A culture of safety or a culture of training in safety?

Cultures are created by behaviours becoming the norm. Safety is at the core of many industries. Significant budgets are allocated […]

March 2nd, 2023

Empowerment is an output. If you can visualize it, you can craft it.

The real question is, what do you want to see happening so that you can say ‘people are empowered’? Employee […]

February 24th, 2023

A simple question will jumpstart your organization into change. It will also save you from months of pain spent reorganizing your people and teams.

The following line will short-cut months of (building) ‘alignment’, integration, reorganization, team building, coalition building, and any situation in which Peter, […]

February 20th, 2023

Lead Via Peer-To-Peer Networks – If you don’t lead via peer-to-peer networks, you’re only driving your car in first gear.

Peer-to-peer work, transversal, spontaneous or not, collaboration, peer-to-peer influence, peer-to-peer activities of Viral Change™ champions or activists, all of this is the […]

February 7th, 2023

Write a script, not a strategic plan

If you care about the journey and the place, you need a story. If you have a good, compelling one, […]

January 26th, 2023

3 self-sabotaging mechanisms in organizations

Organizations, like organisms, have embedded mechanisms of survival, of growth and also of self-sabotage. These are 3 self-sabotage systems to […]

January 10th, 2023

Who should be involved in culture change? All inclusive versus going where the energy is.

Many times, in my consulting work, I find myself facing a dilemma: Do I involve many people on the client’s […]

December 23rd, 2022

Tell what won’t change – Introducing 1 of my 40 rules of change

In any change programme that any organization wants to start, they will start by thinking of the things that they […]

December 16th, 2022

Scale It – Introducing 1 of my 40 rules of change

When creating effective change in any organization, there are 40 rules that, in my experience, are the key between success […]

December 5th, 2022

Assets & Strengths Base – Introducing 1 of my 40 rules of change

For more than 30 years I have been involved in ‘change’ in organizations. Again and again, some fundamental principles, and often […]

November 25th, 2022

Campaign It… is 1 of my 40 rules of change

When you filter out the noise, when you try to extract the core, the fundamentals, those ‘universal rules’ of change […]

October 31st, 2022

Hybrid or not hybrid? That’s not the question…

Culture is the new workplace If you want to have a conversation about the future of work, the nature of […]

October 24th, 2022

‘Powered by Viral Change™’: A Social Transformation Platform for the organization of the 21st Century

When we started to work on Viral Change™, as a way to create large scale behavioural and cultural change, and […]

October 14th, 2022

Corporate tribes, intellectual ghettos and open window policies

We talk a lot about silos in organizations usually in the context of Business Units or divisions. But these are not […]

October 7th, 2022

Peer Networks are the strongest force of action inside the organization

Peer-to-peer works, transversal, spontaneous or not, collaboration, peer-to-peer influence, peer-to-peer activities of Viral Change™ champions or activists, all of this is […]