Matthew T Grant

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Tall Guy. Glasses.

The Trouble with Transparency

3473678750_12a861214f_mBe yourself; it’s the perfect disguise. – M.L. Grim

I got reprimanded on Twitter the other day for equating transparency with invisibility.

For the record, I understand that “transparent” means “you can see through it,” not ” you can’t see it at all,” but that wasn’t exactly my point (though, as any bird who’s ever flown into a plate glass window will tell you, transparent objects can sometimes be devilishly hard to see at all).

Instead, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that calls for transparency in government and business, by relying on the common association of transparency with open, guileless communication, actually overlook the possibility that transparency can and often does serve as it’s opposite.

Take for example Jeremiah Owyang’s  twitteration from back in April, “Do you think corporate America will ever be as transparent as the Obama administration?” I responded that I understood transparency to be a plank in Obama’s platform and an important element of his branding, intended to differentiate his administration from the blatant secrecy of Cheney’s, but I expect and encourage him to mobilize  opacity whenever political or strategic necessity demands it.

Governments and corporations are not in the business of sharing their inner workings, plans, or intentions. Rather, they are all pursuing particular interests in a competitive environment where an unconditional openness would be foolhardy at best and suicidal at worst.

At the same time, game theory tells us that a measured openness, one that builds trust and facilitates alliances, can indeed be advantageous – so long as this openness is not seen as a “move,” in other words, an act which has as its conscious but obscured purpose self-interested gain, which it of course is.

Naturally, if the field is dominated by calls for transparency and everyone is rushing to “out-transparent” each other, an unapologetic secrecy becomes a legitimate, differentiating option, as we see in the case of Apple (though said secrecy is not without it’s own troubling consequences). Indeed, by clearly highlighting the extreme levels of secrecy maintained by your organization, governmental or corporate, you ultimately fulfill the new transparency imperative by being open about your closedness.

For my part, I do not place an absolute value on transparency and am immediately suspicious of anyone who wears their transparency on their sleeve. I can’t help but think, “They’re sharing so much with me. What are they hiding?

Image Courtesy of Arenamontanus.

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“It Doesn’t Feel Like Marketing” – Matthew T. Grant on Noteworthy Content

Kyla Cullinane interviewed me during MarketingProfs’ B2B Forum last month. The topic was “How to Make your Online Content Stand Out.”

Briefly stated, I believe that your content will stand out if it is useful in and of itself (not just as marketing copy for your company). Of course, when you focus on “usefulness” you begin to move away from the notion of content as “words on a page” and begin to think of it in terms of tools, applications, and ideas. That is, as Shakespeare used to say, “the rub.”

If you don’t have two minutes and thirty odd seconds to spend on this video but you want something to think about, consider this: What question is your product or service the answer to?

Now let that question guide you in developing content that is meaningful, pertinent, and, above all, useful to the people who matter most: your customers.

If on the other hand you do have the time to watch, what do you think?

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New Podcast Episode: Lauren Schellenbach on Red Diaper Babies and Stuff

n538904522_120002_4821I’ve posted the second official installment of my Smallish Circle Podcast entitled, “Lauren Schellenbach on Lesbians, Red Diaper Babies, and Living in Los Angeles.” I’ve known Lauren for many years now and am very pleased to introduce her to the wider world via the miracle of podcasting.

If you are interested in communist childhood lore, how to become a lesbian, or why good food is so hard to find in Los Angeles, you should listen to this podcast. If you would like to hear what it sounds like when Vox Femina, the chorus in which Lauren sings and on whose board she serves as chair, cuts loose, you can check that out here. If you would like to catch future episodes of Matthew T. Grant’s Smallish Circle, subscribe via iTunes.

Finally, if you would like to hear the still, small voice which speaks to you with undying love from the center of your heart, just be very, very quiet.

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Matthew T. Grant’s Smallish Circle Podcast

Timothy LearyI’ve officially launched my latest podcast, “Matthew T. Grant’s Smallish Circle,” in which I interview people I know and people I’ve met and, sometimes, talk about people I’ve known or met.

The first official installment finds me recounting a strange afternoon I spent with Timothy Leary. It will make you laugh, then cry, then sort of giggle like when some one cheers you up after you’ve been crying.

To get the ball rolling, I re-uploaded an interview I did with Dr. James Intriligator, consumer psychologist and polymath, which I recorded as part of The Talent Blog Podcast. I will be adding a few other choice morsels from that adventure in DYI social mediation but, in the main, this podcast will feature never-before-consumed conversations with my remarkable friends and acquaintances about the remarkable things they’ve done and seen and the remarkable lessons they are willing to share with you as you strive to attain your own personal levels of remarkability.

You can subscribe to “Matthew T. Grant’s Smallish Circle” via RSS or through iTunes.

If there if someone you’d like to hear me talk with or talk about, please let me know!

Image Courtesy of F3video.

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Isn’t Nature Wonderful?

2368709971_a3173e3932A few months back at the playground with my children, we found a hatchling that had been knocked out of its nest by a thunderstorm. It was lying on the ground, half covered with ants, but twitching because it was still alive.

Walking around the neighborhood the other day, we found spots where a skunk or raccoon had dug up and eaten a bunch of turtle’s eggs.

I found a dead fisher cat by the side of the road. I told a friend about it and she said, “We had a raccoon’s nest in a tree in our backyard and one night the raccoons were screaming and freaking out because a fisher cat had climbed into the nest and was eating their babies.”

When some look at the so-called “natural” world, they see marvelous, even miraculous, complexity. Others see the hand of a loving and just creator. I see a combination of indifference, brutality, and madness. The sun and blue sky look down on your family vacation just as they did the Killing Fields.

Whenever someone invokes the “natural” as something inherently positive and good, I remind them that there is no moral value inherent in any aspect of the physical universe.

I’m also quick to acknowledge that imposing or imputing moral value to actions, events, and objects in the physical universe, as humans are so inclined to do, is perfectly natural.

Image Courtesy of DG Jones.

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Are Ethics the End of Reason?

2180030841_d3f2efa4da_mWhen someone deems your actions “unethical,” they generally mean, “your actions do not conform to a specific ethical standard’s notion of ‘right action’ and thus belong to the category of  ‘wrong action’.”

When you ask them the basis for their ethics, they will have two possible answers. On the one hand, they will refer to an authority who has established the ethical code and infer that you should abide by the code out of respect or obeisance to said authority.

On the other hand, and this is the post-enlightenment tendency, they will justify their ethical standard in terms of practical or utilitarian concerns regarding the outcome of actions deemed wrong.

Here is where conflict arises. No ethical standards can be immediately or unproblematically derived from the world of phenomena, particularly when the phenomena in question are social in nature. The ethical conclusions drawn in this way from or against any particular act are dependent both on the detailed knowledge and accurate depiction of the human situation concerned – both areas in which certainty is, for the most part, provisional.

Dispute is always possible when we are describing situations in human life and particularly when we are claiming that, “given situation x, action y, will lead to outcome z.” In the realm of science, the experimental method stipulates that exceedingly rigorous conditions be met if someone is to even make the claim, let alone experimentally verify, that, given x, action y leads to outcome z. In fact, the experimental situation is intentionally artificial, the connections between x, y, and z demonstrably tight, and the conclusions peculiarly modest.

Unfortunately, in human life, given the number of variables involved in even the simplest interaction between two people, let alone the complexities inherent in the multiple highly interdependent or even very weakly linked interactions that compromise any social process, ethical standards that are justified in terms of “inevitable” outcomes of specific actions are either trivially few or unquestionably questionable.

Yet, herein lies the conundrum. If you question the ethical standard, you are pointed to the utilitarian reason behind it. If, however, you question the utilitarian reason,  you are quickly accused of questioning the ethic.

It becomes clear that the ethic itself is not seen as the product of social consensus and thus open to revision or dispute. The apparent argument from utility reverts to an argument from authority. Thus, if you are questioning the ethic, you are implicitly questioning the authority. If you are questioning the authority, you are in opposition. If you are in opposition, you are an opponent. If you are an opponent, you must be overcome.

Any conflict that cannot be resolved via dialog and compromise, must be resolved by force. While such a resolution may be “comprehensible,” to the extent that it follows the laws of physics, for example, it will not be “reasonable.”

Disputes over ethics are sad and the sadness stems from weakness. The proponents of a particular ethical standard resort to force in order to silence opponents because, sadly, they do not possess the power that could transmute their ethic into law.

Image Courtesy of “T” altered art.

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