There is a very interesting, and provocative, article in the current issue of Wired Magazine, by Clive Thompson, “The See-Through CEO.” In the article, Thompson talks about a new trend of openness and transparency that is seeping into corporate governance, even in some large Fortune-500 companies. One trend that he writes about in particular involves how corporate executives in many large firms are using the Internet, for example blogs and YouTube, to disseminate information about their corporation quickly and effectively.
Here’s an excerpt:
Radical forms of transparency are now the norm at startups – and even some Fortune 500 companies. It is a strange and abrupt reversal of corporate values. Not long ago, the only public statements a company ever made were professionally written press releases and the rare, stage-managed speech by the CEO. Now firms spill information in torrents, posting internal memos and strategy goals, letting everyone from the top dog to shop-floor workers blog publicly about what their firm is doing right – and wrong. Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, dishes company dirt and apologizes to startups he’s accidentally screwed. Venture capitalists now demand that CEOs be fluent in blogspeak. In February, after JetBlue trapped passengers for hours in its storm-grounded planes and canceled 1,100 flights, CEO David Neeleman tried to deflect the blast of bad publicity by using YouTube to air his own blunt mea culpa. Microsoft, once a paragon of buttoned-down control, now posts uncensored internal videos – and encourages its engineers to blog freely about their projects (see page 140). The very process of developing ideas, products, and messages is changing – from musing about it in a room with your top people to throwing it out on the Web and asking the global smartmob for a little help.
We saw some hints of how openness and transparency might lead to the development of new research, and even possible collaborations between academia and industry, in our recent Voting Systems Vendor Workshop at Caltech. I hope that voting system vendors, and perhaps the election administration community more broadly, will read Thompson’s article (and some of the other similar articles in this issue of Wired about how corporations are using technology to improve transparency and their corporate bottom-lines). It would be a great step forward if we were to see corporate executives from voting system vendors develop blogs and use the Internet in innovative ways to improve transparency of their corporate operations. I’m not aware of any such practices yet in the voting system industry in the U.S., but will of course let readers know if I learn of any!