THE BLOG
12/20/2013 11:52 am ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

The Coming Age of Business Transparency: Information Wants to Be Free

Stewart Brand's now famous phrase, "information wants to be free," has been cited by hundreds, if not thousands, of other writers in both print and digital publications over the years. It's essentially a principle that says data inherently wants to be unrestricted. Kind of like the law of gravity... what goes up must come down. With the cost to collect, share and interpret data declining over time, and the volume collected steadily increasing, both governments and brands like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Facebook are feeling internal and external pressure to be more transparent.

Mid-sized and small businesses aren't necessarily feeling the pressure. However, some are innovating by introducing transparency into many aspects of their business models. It's these creative takes on business transparency that will likely lead the way for big business and governments alike in the near future.

Some believe that a potential cultural, business and governmental shift towards transparency and free information was pre-ordained in the astrological ages -- and this is why.

The Age of Pisces

Depending on who's asked, astrological ages last approximately 2,150 years and occur because of the precession of the equinoxes. This age is personified by the symbol of two fish swimming against each other and, to some, implies money, power, control, deception, mixed intentions, half-truths and saying one thing, but doing another. One need not look too far in the past to see real corporate examples of this -- from the robber barons of a hundred years ago to the more recent big tobacco, big oil and the everlasting military industrial complex.

Scholars and astrologists are torn as to whether or not the Age of Pisces is over, but many saw December 21, 2012 as not the end of the world, but as the end of the Age of Pisces and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.

The Age of Aquarius

This age is personified by the pouring of water from a jar or carafe and implies purification, transparency, humanitarianism, modernization, technology and idealism. Today's political and business landscape is certainly experiencing increased pressure to become more transparent.

Whether this is a sign of the new age or not is yet to be known, but the pressure is real nonetheless.

It doesn't matter whether you believe astrology plays a role in shaping society, culture, business, government and, ultimately, history itself or not -- information wants to be free and that creates real pressure for transparency.

Transparency as Innovation

Buffer, a social media management software company, has embraced transparency in ways that are truly innovative. Leo Widrich, co-founder, explains, "We recently gave everyone at Buffer a Jawbone UP wristband. It allows you to automatically track your sleep, your daily steps, your nutrition, and a lot more."

Employee sleep habits are shared within the company. He continues, "A few weeks in it's already had an incredible effect. Browsing everyone's sleep patterns and talking about how to get more deep sleep has an amazing effect on productivity."

This represents one of many examples at Buffer of innovative ways to embrace transparency.

A Culture of Transparency

Indianapolis-based PERQ, a marketing technology and promotions company, has built a culture that espouses to the implied attributes of the Age of Aquarius. From transparency and idealism to modernization and technology, this company's example is the business model of the future. We'll likely be seeing more and larger brands following this example in the not-so-distant future.

Open Book Management

This method of business management views business as a sport where co-workers are teammates, business plans are the playbooks and financials are the scoreboard. To play, all employees must know the numbers beyond high-level quarterly reviews. This can be scary for many organizations because detailed financial information has traditionally been kept at arms-length from the general staff. PERQ is a little different.

Every month, it holds an employee meeting to review financial reports that show, line-by-line, exactly what the expenses were and where profits came from. High-level revenue numbers and projections are also shared daily on a giant chalkboard. PERQ's Director of Marketing, Muhammad Yasin, states, "Our successes... or failures... are literally written on the wall."

He continues, "Why should we be expected to desire anything less from the companies we work with and for? At PERQ, we practice a culture of transparency and we think people work their best when all the cards are on the table."

This example of business transparency is both internal and external. PERQ frequently holds community events and proudly showcases its scoreboard. It doesn't just believe that information wants to be free -- it embraces the principle and its employees, stakeholders and the community at-large are better for it.

Whether or not the predictions of the Age of Aquarius are accurate doesn't really matter. A crack in the governmental and corporate dam of privacy has appeared and is growing. Whistleblowers, WikiLeaks, social media and a culture of on-demand knowledge will continue to apply pressure to the crack until it reaches critical mass and information will be free. This trend is being led by highly innovative small to medium-sized companies. We'll likely be seeing many more examples like Buffer and PERQ in the near future.