We Work In Public

by Jeff Dachis 19 Oct 2009 Blog Post

The Dachis Group Collaboratory launched two weeks ago and we have been actively sharing our thoughts on social business design, while allowing the world to view a window on our work. Recently, the documentary “We Live In Public” has been in screenings around the U.S., chronicling the activities of Josh Harris a decade ago and foreshadowing many characteristics of today’s “social” mania.  We have only partially opened the window on our work world, but the view it provides has caused us to reflect on what we do.  As all of us are participating in the live, unedited feed, some of our worldwide team have some distinct thoughts to share and I hope to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Jeffrey Dachis.  Open for Business. I believe that open companies will achieve exponentially greater success than closed ones. Open = Success, Closed = Failure. To be clear and right off the bat, I am not in favor of 100% transparency as what defines an open company… or 100% of people seeing 100% of a companies information 100% of the time. That is a bad idea. Anyone advocating for that type of transparency is simply not working in reality. However, providing the right people with the right information at the right time in the most transparent way is the only way successful businesses will win in the information economy marketplace.   Unfortunately most large global businesses are not good at getting information and communication to the right people at the right time.  Although paradoxical, businesses aren’t as efficient being free markets for the information currency and value they transact. This makes for missed opportunities, slowed growth prospects, higher cost structures and inefficiencies.  Its for this reason that engaging and exposing more people, more often, to more filtered information about what is actually going on in a business opens up exponentially greater opportunities to everyone participating.  We are open for business.

David Armano. The Latest New Technology? Humans. We wonder what’s so special about this bright and shiny object we call a number of things. “Social Media, Web 2.0, etc. etc.”. It’s people. The latest iteration of the Web is connecting people directly to each other, giving us the tools to collaborate remotely and even access people in companies and brands that we never had access to before. It’s less about transparency, or technology for that matter and more about humanity. Customers, consumers, employees are craving more direct human contact, because they’ve gotten a taste for it whether it be direct engagement with a real live human being on Twitter or comments from your teammates with their avatar sitting right next to it. At the individual level, anyone can experience their 15 megabytes of fame. At a business level, this can present new challenges. What happens when someone wants to share a picture from the office with their external ecosystem? We’re moving toward a real-time Web where signals transmit dynamically—but it’s important to remember that it’s a Web woven of human beings. Connecting at a human level can make a business more personal, and enticing to customers. It also needs to be managed as humans from time to time have been known to make mistakes.

Bryan Menell. The voice inside your head. At first glance, when you see our homepage and how it’s a window on our working lives you revel in the coolness of the transparency. But then you think about the domain names of all the emails that you’ve sent, and the tweets transmitted. Moving forward, there’s a voice inside your head every time you tweet that says, “Remember, this is going on the home page!” But my tweets are already public, so what’s the real difference? There isn’t, yet my perception is that there is. When my iPhone is acting up, and I vent my frustration in Twitter accentuated by a #FAIL tag, the voice asks “Are they a client?” Even if they are, does it matter? While we don’t have all the answers to these questions, it’s great to see the “lab” part of Collaboratory come alive.

Ellen Reynolds.  What am I really doing? At first, it was tempting to send a lot of email or update our internal knowledge-sharing sites so that I could watch my name appear in our live feed. To be honest, it also made me feel kind of productive. But now, when I don’t see my name show up, I realize that I also consciously want my coworkers to know that I’m actually working. I find myself wondering…do I look like a slacker when my name doesn’t appear in our live feed more than once a day? Am I a slacker? Am I not documenting what I’m doing enough? For someone to know THAT you’re working, do they need to know WHAT you’re working on? The fact is, I’m usually doing a lot of offline work and/or work that doesn’t require frequent communication with everyone here. Maybe I should be making a bigger effort to communicate, or maybe I need special feeds that show when I’m working in QuickBooks, researching on the internet or updating a Word doc. Will feeds like ours push employees to over-communicate or just to be more conscious of how they spend their time?

Jevon Macdonald. How far can we go? At first glance, displaying indicators of our email, yammer and other conversations was daunting, but the moment we went public with it I felt an instant comfort. I would never have guessed that I would learn to “ignore” it so quickly. It makes me wonder just how far revealing information and metrics about internal communications could go, and what that could mean in the marketplace. Could a publicly displayed Dynamic Signal become an established element of an organization’s website? Could it become an expected form of communications between a company and their customers? Will organizations compete to demonstrate the strength of their Dynamic Signal and the Hivemindedness of the organization.

Kate Niederhoffer. The black hole of transparency. Once you get into the swing of having all your communication acts published, a confusion sets in wherein you forget how much is public- exactly what is the boundary between public and private? I find myself questioning the difference between data and metadata. If I’m showing others which behaviors I’ve enacted, shouldn’t I show them more– the content, my style, purpose… I imagine it’s like being a performance artist where you challenge others to test boundaries by audaciously testing them yourself, in the moment, as if you’ve done it before, but really are scared shitless. The key is to lose your self consciousness and get in the flow of organically communicating in order to get work done. People seem to have grown increasingly comfortable with this in a personal setting (e.g. Facebook, online banking), but in business, we still have somewhat Victorian standards that could be locking up valuable information.

Peter Kim. How open are you? The Collaboratory made me rethink my perspective on authenticity in social media. For the most part, people live by the old T.S. Eliot quote, “prepare a face to meet the faces you meet.” That is, despite claims of openness, most social media presences are carefully crafted, user-controlled portraits of what they want the world to see. As a company that advises clients on social spaces, it’s paramount that we push on boundaries ourselves. I’ll admit, I was uncomfortable when we turned the feed public – but the more I thought about what was being shared, the more I realized how often legacy thinking can roadblock new ideas…and how much work we have ahead of us before people truly understand the fundamentals behind social business design.

These are some of our reflections on the Dachis Group Collaboratory’s window of work so far…how about you?  What thoughts, issues, ideas, or concerns does this raise in the context of your business?  How do you think about these ideas as they relate to transparency in your life or work environment?  Please don’t hesitate read our thinking on Social Business Design, stay connected and subscribe to our RSS feed, contact us about working together, and engage with us in the comments below share your experience.

  • Jonas

    Ok, here’s the tough questions: How interesting is it really for your clients to read that you guys post something to Basecamp or send an email? How will that help them? How will showing that you’re working (just like everyone else) strengthen your brand?

    It might be fun for you internally, but in that case the intranet wright be a more suitable place for your stream.

    There’s many interesting aspects of “going public” as well, but I’ll take the role as the bad guy here ;)

    • http://dachisgroup.com Jeff Dachis

      Jonas, Thanks for your thoughts and a great question… We are in the very early stages of a fundamental organizational change towards more social and dynamic business operating environments. Admittedly, some of these changes are difficult to understand, yet alone operationalize. This doesn’t mean that these changes aren’t going to happen or that they aren’t meaningful. More than the substance of the content of what is being shown (per your point, arguably not all that interesting unto itself), by beginning to actively engage in implementing the archetypes of Social Business Design- Metafilter, Hiveminded, Dynamic Signal, with our Ecosystem, we are able to begin to explore the issues related to being a socially calibrated, dynamic organization by practicing in reality what we asking our clients to do. We are hoping to engage our ecosystem in this type of discussion and see what types of emergent outcomes we arrive at… and our sense and hope is that everyone, including our clients, will benefit.

    • http://Dachisgroup.com Peter Kim

      Hello Jonas – I don’t see these as “bad guy” thoughts at all. Whether someone outside the firm decides to view the workstream or not is their decision; it’s ours to put it out in public.

      On the surface, I don’t expect that clients, competitors, or other constituents will find much value. Below the surface, it’s the content of the activities that count, not to mention how the activities come together.

      I could share more, but there’s really no reason to – as stated above, being “social” doesn’t mean sharing all information all the time. :)

    • http://davidarmano.com David Armano


      I think that’s a great question and it’s come up before. Let’s take a look at how you’ve put this forward:

      “How interesting is it really for your clients to read that you guys post something to Basecamp or send an email? How will that help them?”

      It’s important to remember that this space thrives on an iterative approach meaning you put something out there, see how it performs, tweak it and revise. All along, you process the feedback loops. So for now the stream is providing value philosophically by illustrating that you can do things like this (display certain business communications) and business won’t break down. That said, the experience on this site is designed to evolve and we are planning future iterations.

      Also, what I think is being overlooked is value of aggregating all of our Twitter feeds in a dynamic fashion. Most corporate Websites are static in nature and prove to be challenging to update and keep fresh. Our “homepage” updates effortlessly in a way that can scale, and with each of us having a significant following on Twitter, we know that there is an audience for the content we provide such as links. Same goes for how the stream presents our featured Collaboratory comment. E-mails and
      when we upload to Basecamp is one part of it.

      “How will showing that you’re working (just like everyone else) strengthen your brand?”

      Our brand is not for us to decide but will be formed in the minds, hearts and guts of the people we do business with. But as active as many of us are, with speaking etc. we also hunker down and work very hard. I think displaying this doesn’t hurt the brand and actually provides insights as to when we work. We’ve stated that work doesn’t happen in shifts anymore (people work on weekends, evenings and from different locations) and the stream shows that in real time.

      Thanks for these questions Jonas, as I think they are legitimate. Hope my thoughts are helpful.

      • Jonas

        David (and Peter and Jeff),
        thanks for your thoughts. I agree on the iterative model – we are all in the beginning of something new here and have to try new things.

        It will be interesting to see how the concept of “company websites” will transform in the future when designing multiple touchpoints that support different behaviours will be more common.

  • http://www.seggr.com Randal Leeb-du Toit

    Dachis Team,

    When I walked into Google’s offices and they had a large screen up capturing and displaying the top searches I, like everyone else passing by, was galvanized by the real time view into the core of the business: search.

    In a similar vein, you are onto something really interesting by displaying your internal and outbound messaging. Passersby, be they Dachis staff, partners, or simply interested parties, can get a glimpse into your world.

    What would be an interesting crank up of this approach would be to include inbound messaging from your broader ecosystem as well. This may go beyond normative transparency comfort levels, especially for those who have yet to embrace the concept of the open enterprise, but as a means of extending, or iterating, the experiment – it would prove to be an interesting exercise.

    A final comment: I totally agree that an open enterprise will achieve an order of magnitude greater success than the closed corporation, I also note that there are gradations of optimal transparency.

    The determining factors contributing to how transparent an organization should be include the sector they operate in (a scientific research institute may play its smarts closer to its chest than a social network operator, for example), the state of development of their market/industry (a maturing industry in which product is commodotising versus a totally new and disruptive market).

    • http://Dachisgroup.com Peter Kim

      Hello Randal – interesting thoughts. My understanding is that IDEO has a screen in the reception area of their offices that broadcasts status updates, similar concepts to Google but with more of a workforce collaboration focus.

      For more on potential insights, be sure to check out what IBMer Luis Suarez is doing with email.

  • http://simple-logic.com Catherine Gordon

    Jeffrey, I completely agree with your point: “providing the right people with the right information at the right time in the most transparent way is the only way successful businesses will win in the information economy marketplace.” And technology is the most logical way to do that. And I’m sure you agree that “the most transparent way” is “the clearest, and most logical way,” so information is easy to understand and act upon. It’s great to have the right intentions, but most companies don’t communicate them coherently, or in a succinct way, so the audience doesn’t ‘get’ the message easily or quickly.

    • http://dachisgroup.com Jeff Dachis

      Catherine, great comment… Thanks. I’m often challenged by the often illogical way things get done. I also selfishly wonder why businesses dont take the “revolutionary” approach to changing things… but time and time again, I’ve been shown that incremental change is typically the way things get done and that the clarity and simplicity we are seeking will happen incrementally. Lets hope the pace picks up!

  • Marcus Brown

    This has affected the tonality of your online voices. Negatively. One of you in particular has lost the initial warmth and charm the initially attracted me to following you on twitter.

    I think that’s a shame.

    • http://dachisgroup.com Jeff Dachis

      Marcus, its unfortunate you feel that way… Perhaps you can point out who you feel has modified their voice ? Im sure it takes some getting used to as discussed above…

      • Marcus Brown

        Hello Jeff, apologies for not responding earlier. It doesn’t really matter who the person is, as I’m pretty sure that this process of working has made you all a little more cautious as to what you post publicly.

        That’s ok. That makes sense. For a normal business.

        But your business doesn’t appear to be normal, at least that doesn’t appear to be how you are positioning yourselves.

        There is something odd about a change of tone isn’t there? Especially from a group of people that do have (or at least proclaim to enjoy) or certain “digital footprint” (not my term that). The foot print is there. One can look back at it and see what the person had to say and how they said it.

        The question is this – is there room within the Dachis way of doing things that allows people to shine and be authentic? Presumably the business brought this people in because of what they had to say and how they went about saying it so surely it is in your interest (as a business) that they continue to do this, is it not?

        If you were to employ me, for example, I would assume that my approach is the approach you’re looking for (this wouldn’t happen. Trust me) and it would therefore be a nonsense for me to change my tone of voice. It would also be a nonsense for you to ask me to change it.

        With warm regards from Munich

  • Clive Prout

    Hi Dachis team,

    I have been attracted by your style of open communication, modeling the integration of social media into your business communication. I am in the process of coalescing a partnership of peers within the coaching industry and looking for/at innovative business models from the world of consulting. Your business is attracting me as a model.

    It seems to me that the space where web 2.0 meets business – what you call “social business” is also a place for integration of the basic drivers of the two worlds. To oversimplify we might say that the basic driver in the web 2.0 world is “contribution” (e.g. Wikipedia, open source software, FB), while the basic driver in business is “profit”. I am curious about how these two drivers come together within the Dachis Group – specifically within the internal agreements which give structure to your culture.

    What are you willing to share about your internal business model? I am particularly interested in what agreements you might have crafted about shared ownership/decision making, and revenue/profit sharing etc.

    With interest,

    • http://dachisgroup.com Jeff Dachis

      Stay tuned… as things evolve…

  • http://www.infinitymark.com Matt Gooding


    While I do, most definitely, LOVE the new site (well I guess it’s 3 months old at this point) I think it would be REALLY wonderful if there were TRUE transparency in most businesses I’ve seen.

    I think the stream would look something like this:

    Tom – just sent a tweet to his girlfriend.

    Joan – just ordered flowers for her mom’s birthday.

    Crystal – is playing solitaire (again).

    Bryan – just placed an illegal bet against the Dallas Cowboys on NFLbet.net.

    Joe – has his door closed and is looking at porn.

    Chris – is actually working and just closed another major account.

    Obviously this is meant to be a bit humorous; however, it IS the sad reality at many companies. Wouldn’t it be great to have TOTAL disclosure and transparency?

    On a serious note though, I very much respect the continued “pushing the envelope” vision you continue to bring to your ventures! I tend to agree in the “open” model.

    In our own business we are increasing our participation in an open-source community where we essentially donate our work for the betterment of the overall community. And I have even initiated a short-term policy driving all of our local business channels to Guru.com in order to build a top presence there despite many naysayers even from within my own team.

    Despite the fact that we are exposing these clients (who are actually already sold on utilizing our services) to a competitive pool of over 45,000 developers worldwide, we have not lost a single client to the competition while growing our ranking from over 1000 just 90 days ago to our current #1 ranking today.

    If you push the envelope you WILL reap rewards, and ultimately your clients recognize the value of such thinking.

    Thanks for your companies efforts in broadening the minds of companies worldwide!


    • http://www.infinitymark.com Matt Gooding

      My intention in making my previous post had been to trigger a discussion about whether or not I had actually read Jeff’s article wherein he clearly stated that,

      “To be clear and right off the bat, I am not in favor of 100% transparency as what defines an open company… or 100% of people seeing 100% of a companies information 100% of the time. That is a bad idea. Anyone advocating for that type of transparency is simply not working in reality.”

      However, I personally DO advocate for that type of transparency. I just propose that thee should be two levels of exposure – one internal and one external. Imagine the impact that such brutal internal openness would create. If we are all honest we really know who is playing solitaire and who is doing what – at least we think we do. I think it at least bears value to entertain the consideration of total openness.

      Would it be too Orwellian? Or would it really be to the ultimate betterment of the Enterprise? I know a lot of open concepts are initially hard to swallow, but once you look at things from a truly “open” mind only then can the value be fully realized!