Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Illusion of Anonymity: Advice for Non-Profit's & Individuals

Recently I have had few experiences that have caused me to think more deeply on the challenges us as organizations and individuals face today. In reality these challenges have always been with us but now technology is pushing it out into the open. I speak of the idea that we live completely private lives and are not accountable to anyone. I also speak of its corollary that organizations no longer can ignore their constituents.
 I will summarize this challenge under the heading “The illusion of anonymity”.  The thoughts finally crystallized in my mind after reading this talk by Elder Bednar. The illusion is the idea that individuals and organizations assume they can operate in complete anonymity; that they are not answerable to others if they hold enough power or are good at hiding information.  It was much easier in the past to hide news, bad deeds, and mistakes given the right power structure, hold on communication channels or craftiness. Not anymore. Technology has been the bane of many individuals and organizations. Not just exposing their bad deeds but also pushing them to be responsive to the needs of others.
Another challenge associated with the illusion of anonymity is the false thought some individuals have that their secret pernicious acts have no consequences. In reality there are consequences; tech is now making those consequences come more swiftly.
Additionally there are some teens and adults who behalf a bit unseemly online assuming they are operating anonymously. Take this recent story from the New York Times. A young lady snaps a nude photo of herself and sends it to her boyfriend. Subsequently there is a break up and the boy forwards the pic on to friends. Soon enough the pic has circulated around the school and lives are devastated as a result. So, when she took that pic was she thinking she was doing something private? Probably or at least she thought only one other person would know. The reality is we all live in glass houses, much more than in the past. For good or for ill it is the reality that faces us. Complete anonymity is not a reality any longer.
We can’t leave organizations out of this either. Do you remember the story of the guy who had his guitar broken by United Airlines? Well in the past a large organization could simple ignore, stall, wait out, run in circles, those it didn’t esteem worthy their concerted attention.  In this case they gave this guy the run around and so he decided to take matters into his own hands. He created this little video and it went viral.(10 millions views to far)

Soon enough he had United calling him offering him anything he wanted as long as he stopped the body blows.
So what advise do I have? 
For Individuals: We live in nearly transparent glass houses and we are going to have to get used to it. Rather than dig in (or in other words ban the use of tech) or deny the reality we must instead increase our own individual sense of personal accountability, stewardship, and responsibility. It is going to become increasingly difficult for us to point the finger at someone or something else. The truth will be known, so operate under that assumption as you live your life. You are the steward of your actions; you are accountable for what you do.
For parents:  I would say it is your discretion what tech you allow your kids to engage in. However, know that these innovations are increasing and they will not stop. Consider each tech thoughtfully but more importantly teach your kids that personal responsibility is more important than ever. Their teenage follies can and will impact future employment.
Now for organizations:  You also live in a glass house and customer service, responsiveness, and accountability need to be very high on your priority list. No longer can damage be sustained from only the traditionally powerful among your constitutions but it can come from any of them. The average Joe is much more powerful than in the past thanks to tech.  Please pay attention to all your constituents, they are all important and now they have a way to make you see how important they are. In the end, the investment in taking care of your customers, employees, and those you serve will pay large dividends. For a long time the trumpet of reducing churn rates has been sounded. Now that trumpet should sound more like a fog horn in the face. I actually think we can do this and it has always been the ‘right’ thing to do all along. Don’t worry the tech to help you accomplish this is also there. Social media, social networks, CRM’s, BI tech and other innovations are storming forward to help you do this.
The Good News:
This post was not intended to be a discouragement. I hope it burst a few bubbles but I also hope many of you are cheering. This is a time to be excited. Tech is allowing good to move to the front of the line. Live a good, honest, and kind life and tech will treat you very well. Truly value-added individuals and organizations will be propelled by it. Trust will be your success and tech will verify your trustworthiness. Yes, the burden is heavy but the dividends are great as well.
Finally, I also think there is a growing level of forgiveness as individuals and organizations stumble and are exposed. My heart goes out to that poor girl in the story above. She didn’t intend to become national news. I think many people share my sentiment when they read stories like that. Brandon Davies misdeeds that became national headlines are another example. The outpouring of support both for him and BYU were great. Men of goodwill will forgive, they will move on. I believe there is even a growing trend in forgiveness as well. I hope we can also be forgiving of those who mess up and are made to be accountable in much more public ways than in the past.
I also feel for those organizations that are being hit with this issue from out of the seemingly blue sky. I know there are a lot of good men who operate good organizations that are struggling to steer the ship through this new level of institutional transparency and accountability. They aren’t used to the idea that anyone could look anywhere in their organization and talk to anyone about what they saw. They also need our support and encouragement. They need our ideas on how to become more transparent and responsive to individuals. I actually hope they can learn from the United Airlines and build effective transparency and customer stewardship plans.
Ok, I am done. I think this might be my longest continuous post. I wonder if anyone actually made it to this line. If you did say, “I read it all” in the comment section.

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