Which came first, the trust or the transparency?

“Whatever happens, promise me you will tell me if you fuck up or if something is fucked up and we’ll work through it together.” – It was my first day on the job, working as an engineer on a hydroelectric dam expansion. I was being driven around by the seemingly unassuming project manager. The request for transparency was his shocking conclusion to my orientation and the gravity of the words has stuck with me. In a culture hyper-sensitive to liability, every instinct screams its opposition to transparency.

The allures of opacity are many. One. Information asymmetry enables laziness. Opportunities for doing less while asking for more are common. Hiding shoddy work, exaggerating technical difficulty, requesting excessive payment. Two. Information asymmetry feels safe (for the side with the information). Things you do not share cannot be used as a basis for blame and attack. Three. Information asymmetry occurs naturally. Unless deliberate, the necessary collecting and sharing of information do not spontaneously occur. Four. Information asymmetry resembles trust. After all, trust means to accept an objectively incomplete status of information or knowledge as subjectively sufficient.

This is why I was so impressed by what the project manager requested. I later came to know this philosophy as radical transparency (“Principles” by Ray Dalio) where all relevant details, including mistakes and weaknesses, are communicated openly amongst a group. This transparency enables the understanding required for improvement in complex environments. The problem lies in creating an environment where the benefits of voluntary and mutual information sharing outweigh the allures of opacity. We’ll contend with micromanagement on our way to symbiosis. It will require effort, good work, and vulnerability. But this is the way we improve collaboratively and earn genuine and informed trust.

At Avvir, we recognize that transparency can be very resource intensive; people meticulously collecting and sharing information. We’re making transparency cheaper and easier by applying the latest in reality capture technologies. If transparency is important to you, reach out to us.

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