I’ve been thinking a lot lately about communication. For a very long time I’ve thought about a particular trend in Middle Management-style venues. Where there is top-down and bottom-up information passing through you, you have to choose how you will manage the flow. Very often information is power, and so hording information is a lot like amassing power. It’s not sustainable, but so, so attractive. If you are the keeper of the knowledge, you manage or massage the flow, deciding what to keep, what to pass through, and what part-out. It keeps the underlings guessing, and the overlords confident that you are (mostly) doing their bidding. The buzzword most associated with this style is….. Transparency.
Oh, transparency…. some people completely obfuscate you…..
One of my weaknesses is classic movies. Myrna Loy, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyk, Gary Cooper…. The first thing I do when I check into a hotel is see if they have Turner Classic Movies on the TV. Besides the plot and entertainment value of an old movie, though, is a history lesson–in social mores (look for “pre-code” movies if you think “R” ratings are a modern-day invention), fashion (of course), conventions (Mid-Atlantic accents) and special effects. I remember being puzzled watching old reruns of Perry Mason (I think that was the start of my fascination for The Classics) when at “night” there was such contrast and definition in the shadows. Turns out, it probably wasn’t night at all. Besides flying saucers on wires and papier mache boulders, another trick to enhance the look of a scene was coat the camera lens with vaseline. Especially useful for softening the close-up of an aging actress… allowing her to play the ingenue for another 5 or 6 years.
This is a metaphor for latter day transparency. Just like that vaseline-coated lens, all the light comes through, most of the message…. but somehow, the whole intent does not make it. Marshall McLuhan famously blamed media or delivery for “massaging the message”, but it’s still us pulling the strings, smearing the lens, throwing the huge boulder.
In terms of diplomacy, a little lube on the lens makes sense. Social conventions, as well, necessitate saying “F-Bomb” or “Baloney” when the actual expletives were much saltier.
But what if our intent is not delicacy or fear of offending? What if our intent is to manage the message? And this begs the question: What reasons do people have for hoarding information?
What indeed…. Appearing indispensable? Nurturing a competitive culture? Insurance? Camouflaging incompetence?
As I stand ready to take on a role that will demand I employ tact and truth, competence and patience, skill and humility, I think about my penchant for real transparency. It’s going to be a
bugger bitch difficult task to clean off all that vaseline. Maybe I better just tackle one lens at a time…