Personal Transparency

My co-founder Joel and I recently received $1m in cash each, through Buffer’s latest funding round. It triggered a fascinating discussion between us about why and if we should share this with the world and be transparent about it. $1m is pocket change in Silicon Valley terms, but for me, this is more money than I’ve ever seen in my life, much less to think about having it in my bank account. So the first thought was to keep this quiet and between ourselves. We made up a number of reasons why this is right, all which were more or less empty assumption about what other people may or may not think about us.

Then Joel sent me a HipChat message after having discussed this, which I thought was much more eloquent than I could have ever put it in terms of why being transparent about this is important:

“I just wanted to say that I reflected more on being transparent about our $. I feel like we should definitely do it and set an example and surprise people there, it’s almost our duty to! I also think it will help us be more responsible with our money, and we might even get some great advice from people!”

Transparency makes you a better person

Sometimes, there is a fantasy that I have about strapping a camera to my head and live-streaming every second of my life to a public Youtube page. Imagine what might happen if you know that everything you do could possibly be seen by someone else. Sticking to doing the right thing seems so much easier to do.

In fact, those are exactly some of the things that happened when we started to make everything about Buffer as a company transparent. With people knowing your revenues, the salaries you pay and so much more, doing what is right becomes almost effortless. You don’t even have to try to do it.

The difference of making your very personal things public compared to your company’s data, certainly took this one step further. I’m not Buffer, so it’s easier to have a certain distance to it. So sticking to the same transparency is both scarier, but possibly even more rewarding since it’s even closer to myself.

It seems obvious now, but it’s much easier to conclude this now: Personal transparency makes you a better person in the same way that company transparency makes you a better company.

Personal Transparency vs Personal Privacy

What’s interesting to observe with this in the wake of recent NSA revelations is that it goes almost completely against what most people’s response was to these events: More privacy. What if we were to flip things on it’s head and respond instead with more personal transparency.

Of course, our intuitive and understandable reaction as humans when we feel like being attacked, in this case from someone we wanted to value highly – our own government – is to be defensive about it and close ourselves off. And yet, possibly the best way to solve this problem is not to attack back and lock ourselves in with more privacy, but to transcend it with complete openness. It would wipe out the discussion completely and it wouldn’t even be on the agenda anymore.

I found it a fascinating experience to push through my own personal transparency barriers recently and it’s already been so much more freeing to do so. And I’m excited to experiment with it further and see how far I can go.

I’d love to chat with you about this on Twitter:

Here is something I’ve been scared to put out there and wanted to write about for a while: “Personal Transparency”

— Leo Widrich (@LeoWid) December 23, 2014

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