Thursday, August 05, 2021

Transparency and Swarming are Both Good and Bad for Businesses

Sleepy communities are suddenly overrun with people moving in from out of town.  Roads and traffic signals designed to accommodate low volumes of traffic are suddenly insufficient.  Hidden fishing holes are now surrounded by cars, families, dogs and campers.  Trail systems are overrun.  Birders swarm a quiet neighborhood causing traffic congestion and concern.  All of these swarming scenarios unfold so quickly they surprise us.  

What has caused these "sudden" swarms.  I am sure there are many different possibilities, but instant communication, search engines, social media, online and real-time data analytics and market transparency, plus our increasing desire for new and better experiences, wealth, and our ability to work from home anywhere all play a role.  Because of all these reasons and more we all are swarming more often.  

We swarm to new TV shows.  We swarm to new music.  We swarm to picturesque mountain villages.  We swarm to newly Instagram "discovered" trails, rivers, beaches, restaurants, mountains, neighborhoods and resorts.   Swarming can cause chaos.  It can upend communities overnight.  Housing prices can skyrocket.  Labor, materials and other resources can all suddenly become more expensive as a result of unexpectedly swarming-caused high demand.

Swarming seems to be a byproduct of the internet and social media platforms.  We are all connected on platforms that aggregate and centralize information, both true or false, at speeds never before imagined.  We swarm to grab toilet paper, some swarm to march on the capital, others swarm to a Frye Festival.

Swarming can have both good and bad effects on businesses.   If your organization represents something inspiring and positive, consumers may swarm to purchase your products leaving you without enough product.  If your company or leaders gain a reputation for mistreating humans, animals or for destructive environmental practices then customers may suddenly disappear leaving warehouses full of unsold products.

Swarming happens because of visibility to information, and in today's world nothing remains hidden for long.  We live in a transparent world where information, the internet, smartphone photos, social media and search engines, and data breaches all guarantee the "transparency effect" will also impact our world and our businesses.  Even the most secretive organizations like the NSA experience data breaches.

Transparency and swarming can cause chaos in a business.  The most well thought out plans and strategies can be turned upside down by one Twitter post showing how your supply chain includes a third tier supplier using child labor in a remote factory.  Transparency can be a very good motivator to not only promote your purpose-driven ambitions, but to actually become a practitioning purpose-driven organization.

In this article, I argue that as a result of both the "transparency effect" and the "swarming effect," companies today require a Chief Values Officer to ensure that the business and the leaders of the business follow admirable practices that align with their public statements, and that the "transparency effect" and the "swarm effects" will benefit the business, not destroy it. 

Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.