The power of transparency in business, government and non-profit organizing was a key theme from 2015. In Sept, I gave a keynote talk (see RubyConf Taiwan video) called “Transparency Wins.” The title was a play on words, where “win” in English can be both a verb and a noun: how transparency as a methodology causes us to win, and also the story of three wins.

All the disparate threads of my work came together in this presentation, which was my fourth tech talk of 2015. I had been speaking on two quite different themes: two talks focused on game design and theories of play and fun, and this was my second talk on transparency.

sunlight through treesI feel like it is important to convey how and why transparency really works. For many people, it is counter-intuitive to release something that you know has flaws… some would even call it disrespectful to your audience, your community or your customers, but when done right it is the opposite. Transparency can fuel creativity and amplify success.

Reflecting on what it takes to win at something, I realized that a theme from the game design talks applied here, as well. I had presented the definition of an epic win: that extraordinary outcome that feels impossible, until it happens. I was inspired by Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk (see notes on transformative power of games). That same concept is needed when you do something new. Conveying the outcome you intend is the key to making transparency lead to effective participation. Participation increases the size of your team and accelerates learning. We need to make software not just for people, but with people.

Through this framework for explaining effective techniques of transparency, I realized that part of the magic of Bridge Foundry is that we present the vision of a software industry that is reflective of our society. This vision can feel like a bit of a fantasy to newcomers, but then we let them experience a little bit of this future we seek to create. They participate in a workshop where a diverse group of people get together to teach and learn, and they know that their work will take a clear step in the right direction and definitely help a few people. Since the software industry was created by women, this really shouldn’t be so hard, but it’s weird how history gets forgotten so quickly. We need transparency into the past too — understanding history helps us shape the future.

Much of the open source movement in government is focused on accountability, and that is important; however, when we are transparent about our intention as well as the steps we are taking to execute on that intention, we create a space for participation. We have an unprecedented opportunity to create a new kind of participatory democracy. In addition to citizens participating by voting, where they have limited ability to express their intent, where complexity is too often boiled down to binary decisions, we can involve people in the creation of policy and its implementation. In my work on College Scorecard with the Department of Education, I saw first hand how the implementation of policy using technology can be transformative. The US Government released data by releasing an API and a website, making that data immediately useful to students, colleges and the organizations that serve them. We also built the software with the help of individuals who felt that the work was important, which let us do more with a limited budget.

Lastly, in business, the lean startup movement has created a discipline called “customer development” where we develop relationships with customers in advance of creating the product, increasing the chance that the product will actually work for the customers. At Mightyverse, we used a paper-prototype to engage language learners and created a real-world card game that helped us validate our theories of social learning, while building a community that may someday use our mobile app. Business folk might say we’re creating a market (or tapping into one), although I think it is more accurate to say that the market is creating us.

You can watch the whole video here: Transparency Wins, RubyConf Taiwan 2015

Ivan Krstić provided a computer security primer with some interesting historical context when he introduced the Mac App Sandbox in 2011. I learned these important concepts when I started writing web software in 1995 with the Shockwave player, but I’ve never seen as clear an overview as in the first 20 minutes of this talk.

Here are some highlights:

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history-of-assumptions

We are conditioning our users to ignore our security messages…

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What if we took this approach with car airbags?

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The root problem is one of “ambient privilege.” Just because of the person who happened to run a program, we give that program all of the privileges we would give to the person. However, no human can understand and review all of the lines of code that we execute every day.

We are building complex systems, which always have vulnerabilities.

Complexity is growing, and there is no limit on the kind of damage an exploit can do. From cars to fighter planes, the amount of code we are putting into our vehicles has increased dramatically over time.

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100M lines of code in a car today….

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what-works

Mostly, the Mac App Sandbox introduces ideas that the Web Browser introduced in 1993, Shockwave in 1995 with a full program language, then with JavaScript running in its own sandbox a couple of years later. There are some new ideas, of course. One that I particularly like is the notion of leveraging the File Open dialog to capture a user’s intent and seamless allow selective file access only to those files that the user chooses to open.

We need more creative and thoughtful user experience design that allows humans to safely interact with a complex world.

I’ve noticed that people have the illusion that leaders are these “idea people” with throngs of followers who just do what they are told. Maybe some leaders work that way, but that isn’t true leadership. I’ve found that effective leaders identify people who are passionate about a shared goal. Organizations are effective when the people in them have personal goals that overlap with the group mission.

Sometimes people approach me with ideas that they think I can make happen as a leader. I’m excited when it is something that they are personally passionate about and want to help make happen. I’m dismayed when they think they can outline an idea and I’m going to independently make it happen — as if I don’t have three thousand ideas that are queued up just waiting for a few hours of spare time or the right collaborator to make happen.

I think the way media portrays leaders is unfortunate. I understand why it is convenient to focus on speeches and interviews with people at the tops of organizations. In many ways, it is the leader’s responsibility to communicate the impact of the work that all of their folks are doing, so folks can focus on making awesomeness happen. I love it when reporters dive into the details and find the people who make the the things, write the code, organize the events, and write the words. We need leaders to rally around and gather teams who will work better together and create a bigger impact than each individual would alone.