Lots of traditional, widely accepted, and perfectly legal business practices just can’t be trusted by customers, and will soon become extinct, driven to dust by rising levels of transparency.
By transparency, they mean that, for example, every interaction through a digital device leaves a record that can later be searched, cross-referenced, duplicated and potentially shared.
This means you leave a trail every time you make a phone call, use an app, visit a website, open a door with a security card, get money from an ATM, text someone, use an EZ Pass-like device to pay a toll, or leave a parking garage.
This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. Digital cameras are everywhere. By one account, Great Britain has almost 4 million permanently mounted security cameras. Smartphones now come with one or two cameras, which means if anything of interest happens anywhere in the world, the odds are someone will record it.
The Looxcie wearable camcorder sits on your ear and records everything that happens in front of you. When something interesting happens, you press a button and save the last 30 seconds.
If Google and others have their way, smartglasses will soon be on the market. These will likely expand significantly the number of events that get recorded automatically.
Nowhere to hide
Social media allows us to share information. If a party is lame, you can warn away friends. If a company screws you, 900 of your close and personal online friends will hear the details.
It used to be that if you drove across town to spend $10 on a movie, there was no record of your actions. Today, there might be 100 data points showing your progress across town and back.
For example, there are businesses that charge you, say, $10 a month for a service. Being busy, you might forget about the service, stop using it entirely, and still get charged $10 a month for years on end. Don and Martha say that’s not right, that companies can see when you stop using a service and they have a self-interest in pointing this out to you.
Their advice is simple and powerful:
1. Do things right.
2. Do the right thing.
Let’s consider how this might apply to your life. If you’re a student, you might “forget” to mention a bad grade to your parents, unless they specifically ask, “How did you do on your geography test of April 8?” But with online tools such as Blackboard prevalent, and your friends and your friends’ parents exchanging stories online, the odds are pretty high you will eventually convince your parents that you aren’t trustworthy.
Now imagine that you have a job and your employer decides to implement a quantified approach to your office, meaning that your supervisors now track how long you leave the building at lunch, how many times you say something positive versus negative in meetings, how many suggestions you make each year for improving workflow, and 29 other metrics.
Here’s the problem: Most of us don’t look so good when we quantify our lives. We exercise less than we think, and eat more. We spend more time thinking about work than working hard. We probably have a higher opinion of ourselves than is warranted.
My intention isn’t to depress you. To the contrary, I want to motivate you to take Don and Martha’s advice to heart. Do things right. Do the right thing. Proactively.
No matter how closely your company starts to quantify everything you do, you will be ahead of the pack. Why? Because most people aren’t going to realize that extreme truth has become the new normal until it is too late.
Near the end of their book, the authors include this passage:
Transparency is like a disinfectant for business. It will purify things and help start the healing, but it’s going to sting like hell.
They’re writing about companies, but if you substitute “our lives” for the word “business,” you get the idea.
This weekend, we had some friends over and I listened as my wife recalled some of the decisions we made 10 or 12 years ago: why we decided to move, how we found our new house, etc. On nearly every subject, I thought: That’s not what actually happened.
Human beings are used to living with perceptions of facts, not facts themselves. But in the coming months and years, that’s all going to change. Get ready for extreme truth, because it’s coming fast.
Bruce Kasanoff is a speaker, author and innovation strategist who tracks sensor-driven innovation at Sense of the Future. Kasanoff and co-author Michael Hinshaw teamed up to explore more of the opportunities unearthed by disruptive forces in Smart Customers, Stupid Companies.