For the past nine weeks I’ve been taking a course in fiction writing. As part of the class, we write short stories and critique each other’s finished works. The other night we critiqued a classmate’s story about a woman who worked for a corporation that took extreme measures – from forcing employees to sign far-reaching confidentiality agreements to installing cameras on campus – to protect its secrets.
As with other stories, we eventually got around to discussing the believability of this one. I thought the level of secrecy at the company was a bit overdone (and not intended to be), but my classmates reached an unusual consensus on this point: it was a very realistic portrayal. They agreed that regardless of the size of the corporation or the type of industry, executives spared no expense to keep information from the public, and even from employees.
The discussion reminded me of this widely held perception. It also reminded me of the purpose of a project I’ve been working on for Patagonia – to increase the transparency of our work.
That project – The Footprint Chronicles – puts this notion about corporations and transparency to the test more than any other I’ve worked on. It originated from the belief, citing Socrates’ philosophy on leading an examined life, that we need to continuously learn about ourselves in order to lessen our own footoprint. It also grew from the belief that by sharing what we learned with the public, we would earn customer confidence and inspire other businesses to be more transparent, too.