Glass House Conversation: Transparency v Clarity

This week I’m moderating an online conversation at the Glasshouse Conversations site — an electronic outgrowth of a series of in-person conversations a couple of years ago.

I’ve written about my trip there before on this blog; they’ve also put up a page with a video about our conversation there on Transparency. It was a unique and amazing experience — and an interesting conversation and day took place. As the video makes pretty clear, a lot of people came in with the expectation of talking primarily about physical and architectural transparency, but I’ve been more interested in transparency as a metaphor — as a way to live your life, as a way to manage organizations. A lot of interesting ideas came out of the blending of physical and metaphorical ideas of what transparency is.

Of course, in my time at Mozilla this has been a theme we’ve come back go again and again, as we try to learn and discover how to lead effectively in an organization built on ideals of transparency. (That isn’t the only ideal, and there are many others that it interacts with regularly, but it is an important one for us.)

Leading transparently is often hard – it’s tough to know how to be most effective, how to get things done – and often, being transparent seems to be counterproductive. John Maeda, after spending his first year as President of RISD trying to be as transparent as possible, wrote this piece on transparency versus clarity, and a lot of things clicked for me as I read it – I’ve come back to it often over the past year or so.

And then the Wikileaks/Afghanistan papers situation occurred — and while leaking confidential information is nothing new, I think that the scope of the information leaked, and the way that it was leaked, is something that is quite modern. It raises a serious question: is it even possible to keep secrets in organizations and governments now? Should it be? Is this new transparency good, destructive, a little bit of both, or is it just too early to tell?  Jeff Jarvis posted a nice piece for thinking about this a couple of weeks back.

I’ve got lots of thoughts here, as you might imagine — living and breathing Mozilla over the past 5 years has made some things very clear and others not so much but not that many answers myself, so I’d love to hear (and engage with) a broad range of thoughts on this during the week.

I’m very happy to be moderating this Glass House Conversation online. Please contribute.


  1. And, suffice to say, there are things where Mozilla should probably even be more transparent – easier to see from where I’m working than from inside MoCo, of course.
    I’d be happy to talk about those, but if so, that’s one thing I’d keep out of the public for the moment for image reasons (I don’t want to count as the ranter, and I don’t want Mozilla to look like it has to hide something)

    • Yes, of course. It’s an ongoing process. There are things that we should probably be more open about; there are other things that we’re open about that are probably not that relevant or helpful. It’s an interesting balance.