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Transparency vs. Seduction

"Transparency" is a hot word in business blogs, but just how much transparency do we really want? At what point does transparency become Too Much Information?Blondegirl

I'm not talking about financial transparency or being honest over things like fair trade, sweat shop labor, animal testing, blog motivation and sponsorship, environmental issues, harmful/dangerous things, or even poor customer service and products that weren't ready to ship but... did. I assume honesty is becoming the "killer app" for businesses—be honest or be killed. But that's not the kind of transparency I'm talking about.

I'm thinking more of things like Scoble's Channel 9, and this notion of putting up, say, a blog devoted to a reality-tv style behind-the-scenes view into a company as a (in part) marketing tool. I'm talking about ethical businesses using transparency to help inspire passionate users... a fantastic idea, but how far do you take it?

What do you risk when you put up video of your meetings, project notes, discussion transcripts, product development process details, or even just photos or a webcam of your "team at work"?


Do I really want to know what's behind the curtain?

What if it sucks the suspense out of the whole thing? What if surprise and delight are intimately connected, and that removing all the surprise takes away much of the delight?

I was one of those at the MacWorld keynote in San Francisco who--knowing all the while that a low-end Mac was likely to be part of the show--gasped when Jobs held it. We'd all been describing what we thought it might be with uninspired words like "headless box" and "iCheap", but here we were—surprised, no SHOCKED by even the damn box it comes in. I was thrilled that I didn't know going in what I'd really see on that stage.

People love surprises.
The brain is turned on by mystery, curiosity, seduction.

I think it was the Dalai Lama's brother who said (in an NPR interview) something like, "If you shine a bright light into every corner of your apartment, it will become unliveable."

I'm thinking that sex isn't the worst model for thinking about this. Or if not sex, then at least romance. Honesty is crucial in a romantic relationship. Brutal honesty can kill it. If I ask a question, don't lie. But if you feel the urge to "share" every last detail, you might find me less interested. Does that make me shallow? No, it makes me human. Our brains are tuned for things that make us curious, because it saved us from being tiger snacks.

I won't open my presents before Christmas, and I keep my eyes closed while someone special "prepares the surprise". I like twist endings and shocking revelations. I don't peek. (OK, maybe just a little.)

Surprise is an aphrodisiac, so please do not tell me EVERY LAST THING about your product development and process. No, once I know you're up to something, I usually prefer to stay blissfully in the dark, or at least in a blindfold, while you prepare to dazzle me.

It works for filmmakers and novelists and lovers.

And yes, markets are conversations. (The brain is all about conversations.) But what kind of conversation? Because I'll take a stimulating flirtatious dinner party to a laid-bare, tell-all, talk show any time. Shock me with your stories, your liveliness, and your creativity. Not by revealing what you look like when you haven't showered for a week. Yes, genuine (and I'll indulge in one more cliche--authentic) communication is more important than ever as people lose their last bit of tolerance for bullshit. But I'm talking about keeping a healthy, scintillating balance. Cold and distant won't work anymore, but don't rush too quickly to the opposite end. Thank-you, but unless I'm sleeping with you, I'd prefer NOT to see you quite so up close and personal. So tease me, drop hints, do the business equivalent of showing a little skin, but hold a little something in reserve. Whet my appetite.

And as Beth just reminded me, "this is not about hiding the truth from stockholders, auditors, customers. It's about keeping the next cool thing under wraps."

Charm me. Delight me. Make me gasp and I might be yours forever. : )

(You can read more on transparency here, here, here, and here. And by the way, I'm not suggesting that Channel 9 has slipped over the edge at this point, only that it might be playing in the danger zone.)

Posted by Kathy on January 18, 2005 | Permalink


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» Secrecy, surprise and seduction from Johnnie Moore's Weblog
Prompted by the surprise launch of the latest Apple gizmo, Kathy Sierra has a characteristically well-written post saying you can take transparency too far.What do you risk when you put up video of your meetings, project notes, discussion transcripts, ... [Read More]

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You need to go read Kathy's post at Creating Passionate Users on Transparency vs. Seduction. The comments are great too.... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 19, 2005 1:50:39 PM


could i delight you, charm you and disarm you with this after dinner conversation? not sure about gasping but...

i think where the balance is wrong is in the old need to know/need to hide debate. hiding some stuff might be good but not as a continual policy on everything. that is where the new transparency comes in. its not a good look hiding the fact your drugs make kids commit suicide, say.

Posted by: James Governor | Jan 18, 2005 9:58:49 AM

James: "hiding some stuff might be good but not as a continual policy on everything. that is where the new transparency comes in. its not a good look hiding the fact your drugs make kids commit suicide, say."

Yes, I completely agree. When I talk about creating passionate users, I have an implicit "this applies only to companies that are ethical". None of what I say makes any sense with respect to those who need to first clean up their business practices. So I should qualify that I'm talking about business transparency as a marketing strategy, rather than transparency as a driver to better behavior.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Jan 18, 2005 10:14:30 AM

An approach that achieves a good balance, then, is to be transparent in a way that *begets* the next cool thing.

TV networks sell audiences, so the bigger the pre-sold audience, the more likely the next cool show will gain wide distribution...

Attracting an audience to a transparent look into 'the making of' a show, then, may go a long way toward the aforesaid begetting...

Enter, say, 'Toward 'Land of OpportuniTV': The making of a startup comedy about making America the Silicon Valley of customized lifelong learning and career services, the global market that Peter Drucker says will be the biggest over the next 30 years'...

Which is precisely the content that is coming online at OpportuniTV.com! :-)

Hey wait, don't go looking for your spam filter! It's not my fault that this blog entry was such a natural set-up... :-)

Kathy, this the guerrilla marketing effort I mentioned in a comment a little while back. To see how the show is designed to stimulate the nucleus accumbens, see the 'comic premise' section. More nuccacc-related details will come online when I post the 'episode template' section...

Posted by: Frank Ruscica | Jan 18, 2005 11:54:08 AM

On this topic I've found Apple's recent legal actions towards sites such as ThinkSecret interesting. These sites give us (at least for early adopters) a sense of transparency into what Apple is creating, but still with a sense of surprise since we don't really know how accurate these leaks are. They certainly create a sense of suspense as well.

While some of these reports clearly get out of line, I wonder whether Apple is really doing themselves a favor attempting to shut them down?

Posted by: Eric | Jan 18, 2005 12:46:29 PM

As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but then again we've got our brain filling in gaps to please us in times when things are veiled, I've learnt that recently ;-). Unveiling or making transparent is an art by itself, it's as if the twinckling wrappingpaper around a gift gets animated and does it's last act de presence before leaving the scene. And if this last act was good enough, it stays like a warm glow around what remains...the gift, maybe nice maybe not, who cares if you assisted unveiling it :-) What do you think?

Posted by: Gian Franco Casula | Jan 18, 2005 1:11:09 PM

To movie studios: PLEASE stop giving it all away in the movie trailers. I used to work for a motion picture ad agency (BLT & Associates, Hollywood), and they tried to walk that line between enough to make you want it, without showing the key scenes, but the trend has steadily been moving toward putting all the best parts in the trailer. At the least, don't make it obvious that the guy survived that fall from the helicopter by showing the hospital scene where everyone's gushing, "We were SURE you were DEAD!" And it's much harder to laugh out loud when you've seen all the punch lines...

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Jan 18, 2005 2:38:14 PM

Interesting post! Here's a hint: we do both types. Did you see Halo 2 before it was released? No.

But, overall, I am pushing for more transparency than less. Why? Because transparency lets people participate in the process. It also lets us make mid-course corrections.

I've seen lots of those since joining here.

Posted by: Robert Scoble | Jan 18, 2005 6:47:41 PM


Must say you do what you preach. I still have no idea what trinity is about ;-)

Posted by: Johannes de Jong | Jan 19, 2005 12:09:40 AM

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