Why nobody really wants to be transparent


Companies want to be open, honest and transparent. But only within certain limits. And we as private individuals are the same. There are reasons for the desire for greater transparency. I even believe that they all come from the same corner. That is the bold theory behind this article.

Transparency is a priority

There are constantly appeals to change and, in so doing, become better. Some companies even make these appeals to themselves when something has gone completely wrong yet again. Then comes the call for great transparency and clarity. Facts are to be made public.
The former president of Fifa, Josef Blatter, said “Transparency is to be a priority in future.” Then he resigned and was never seen again. If you enter this sentence in the search line of your browser, you will find that Mr Blatter was not the only one to make this claim.
The search results in the browser show:
When the appeal is to create transparency, it is mostly about market transparency and about the desire to create greater transparency so as not to harm or disadvantage other market participants or even the national economy.
However, when there is a warning about transparency, it is about the transparent citizen and the desire to ensure that the data spread around by always being online are not misused. That is then behavioural transparency.
And there we have the problem: transparency is used in several connotations.

Outsider - Transparency is important to us

 Less transparency fires the imagination

However, when a physicist talks about transparency, he will comment quite drily: “If everything is transparent, there is nothing left to see!”
And this is where I would like to come in and show that both the demand for more transparency and the warning against too much transparency have one common denominator. And that the physicist is right.


The partnership or behavioural therapist will urgently advise against too much transparency:
Transparency can be an engine. But an authentic person has rough edges and needs a refuge where he keeps his little secrets. We pull the curtains over our inner being and protect it from scrutiny. There is nothing wrong with that. On the contrary: it is this very behaviour that makes us attractive to our partner and friends. It fires their imagination. And this provides much more intensive pleasure for everyone than when we draw back all the curtains and so there is nothing more to discover and no more mysteries to unravel.
After all, quite a lot happens behind the curtains. If there were no curtains, the whole film industry would collapse, and the literary business as well.
Instead we would all simply be predictable and would soon no longer be regarded as individuals but only as a number in – at best – reason-based research.

Standing out from the competition

As the physicist already said: the more transparent we make ourselves, the more invisible (that is to say more uninteresting) we become.
So transparency is good but only when the individual’s anonymity is maintained.
And what about companies? I believe the situation is similar there, too.

For example, my apartment is on a street where four hairdressers have set up their businesses. A lawyer can quickly write down what the business model of a hairdresser is but nevertheless each one of them will have a little secret which guarantees them a few loyal customers and distinguishes them from their competitor 100 metres down the street.

Competition is good for business, they say. That is true but only when there are differences.
So behind the curtains there have to be little secrets. Small incentives to stay. A coffee with a perm, for example, or good magazines to leaf through. Or the latest local gossip from somebody who really should know.

Trade and business secrets

Large companies in particular should be transparent as part of their CR. But they, too, do not want to put their business model all too obviously on the Internet to be copied and prefer to pull the curtains over their research and development and their corporate strategy. Otherwise they would degenerate into a number in the commercial register and the key figures they have to publish anyway.

Companies have to change continually in order to become better. Perhaps at the beginning they don’t even know whether they will succeed in the end. So it does not help much if everything you are just trying out has to be disclosed.

Change for the better?

Appeals are also constantly being made to us to change and become better.
But such appeals forget the fact that some people want to change, but others don’t: They are too old. Biologically or mentally. Or they have more important things to do. Or they are passionate preservers of their faults. And that again has something to do with the curtains. I believe it is more or less 50:50. And what’s more, what is really a change for the better is often a matter of debate.

Man is a creature of habit

I once stood on the street attending the opening ceremony of a premium office building. The staff were moving from an example of grey post-war architecture into a shining new build in a 1A location. I heard music coming from one of the floors. That was where most of the action was. The old hits that people were dancing to contrasted so sharply with the bold and futuristic architecture of their new building that I thought to myself: people simply DON’T change themselves or their habits. At least not as fast as the owner of this architecture would like us to think.
Here anyway the staff wanted everything to be more homely. And here they partied in good spirits behind their new steel and glass façade, putting on hits that came from quite different times.

Do we want to give up habits?

Man is a creature of habit. You have to really persevere to crack that hard nut and get people to change. And you may well fail in the end:
For example, we reveal a little of ourselves when we have a health check only to hear: “Your bloods are fine but you really should start leaving coffee well alone!” Many people will pay heed to this advice, but it destroys how the classic, seasoned coffee-house drinker pictures himself: this is where he likes to come, meet his friends and let his gaze wander.
And now he’s supposed to drink camomile tea? He will ignore the warning.

By providing sub-annual readings, ista makes our heating behaviour and our hot water consumption transparent.
Here, I can save money if I use less energy.
But I am, for example, somebody who likes to have long, hot showers. Why? Because I have my best ideas under the shower. Okay, not always. There are times when that doesn’t work. But I don’t know that in advance and so, in such cases, I take a particularly long shower. Because an idea might just come to me. I don’t think I’ll change that – that is the power of habit.

My neighbour is an old chauvinist. His wife has asked him to go outside to smoke. But he only opens the window and blows the smoke outside. So now they have both: heating on and window open. But in return no crisis in their relationship.

Outsider - I don't advise

And how much transparency is just right?

I would say: market transparency makes sense as long as it does not mean that companies have to be continuously subjected to scrutiny.
Behavioural transparency makes sense as long as we can keep our neuroses and don’t become transparent people.
There should always be little secrets behind the curtains. Behind them we can secretly change … or not.

Transparent greetings from

Your outsider