There was an amazing documentary on UK TV last week about the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise liner. What was amazing was not so much what actually went on, although that was amazing enough, what really set it apart was that there was no reconstruction. All of the video was the real and shot by passengers, the coast guard and an astonishingly revealing camera on the bridge of the ship.
This is not the only example, commuting cyclists increasingly have cameras running on their helmet that record incidents, in case there is a need for evidence. I have sat in lawyers meetings with my phone innocently lying on the table, silently and invisibly recording the conversation – just in case.
It is not so much the state surveillance through CCTV, although that plays a part, it is the ubiquitous recording of everything, by lots of people. Police are recorded, customer service is recorded, not just by themselves but by us.
The whole idea of authentic business came, partly, out of the realisation that in a digital age, transparency is inevitable. At the time, around 1999, I was imagining the portability of data being spirited out of offices and into the hands of a wider audience. I had no idea that the combination of phones that record sound and video and the sites like YouTube and the portability of data would mean that the old fashioned cover up would become effectively impossible. (While it might be technically possible to achieve the risk of uncontrolled digital data being in existence is just too high for covering up to be a safe option).
One of the fundamentals of authentic business is to be proud of everything you do. With the advent of total transparency this becomes a need, not just a nice ideal.
Of course there will still be accidents and mistakes, but how we minimise the risks, how we respond in the moment and how we follow up in the aftermath are all going to be subject to scrutiny.
In the new transparently accountable world we must have taken every reasonable precaution to avoid accidents. So that when one happens we have a clear conscience, that we genuinely did all that we could have done.
What the Concordia reminds us of, is that we are all too pre-programmed with our playground blame reflex. It is extremely difficult, in the moment, to keep a level head and reserve judgement while just following the procedure (that we worked out in advance) to mitigate consequences.
And after the event, we can humbly accept our learnings, make good the damage and move on.
It is not just about disasters, it is about every little event, every dispute, every disappointment. It is about finding the skill and the discipline to be proud of every moment, personally and in our work.
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