A Pew survey of internet use showed that 10% of internet users have been online while naked. In an excellent article in Wired this month there’s the idea of the ‘naked organisation’, one that opens itself up to the outside world. I tried this to a degree as a CEO, publishing as much as we could, as often as we could, free and online, to over11,000 outside subscribers, as well as attending as many external events as we could muster, think-tank dinners and other efforts at transparency. As a PLC you had to be transparent at least twice a year financially, what was more important was transparency on ideas. I even opened the company up as Fringe Arts event one year with an enormous banner above the door – this really disturbed staff and I had a barrage of internal criticism (mainly from production people who didn’t understand the value of marketing). My own view is that it was this approach that led to our success in the market. By being transparent and honest in our views, we were seen to be engaging in the debate rather than just ‘selling services’.
An example of a naked e-learning project was the Barclays University project led by Paul Rudd and John Rodgers. They created a learning portal (remember that concept), open to all Barclay’s employees, AND THE OUTSIDE WORLD. There were some discussion forums that were confidential, but the rest was free for anyone to use – and many did. This turned out to be a remarkable idea. Not only were Barclays seen to be ahead of the pack, the benefits for recruitment and brand image were obvious. Unfortunately, the traditionalist L&D people had their way by rather ruthlessly sacking the visionaries and closing it down. Most progressive learning projects are in the end destroyed by training departments themselves rather than from the outside. It taught me that there’s strong arguments for transparent organisations to simply publish their training.
Naked blogs and wikis
Blogging is perhaps the most obvious example of naked learning and sharing. Give people a chance and they’ll whip off their corporate togs in a second. Microsoft’s Channel 9 is a good example. Mark Oehlert (check out his excellent blog) posted a wonderful summary of naked corporate behaviour within Motorola, who have about 4,433 blogs (about 40,000 blog entries), 3,300 wikis (each with often many pages), several thousand FAQs and 28,000 inquiries and responses in 2,400 forums. What made it work? It was a completely viral adoption internally, "without a single memo from upstairs". Heavily used low down in the organization to get things done, but less used and less understood as you go up the organization. Three quarters of the company participates by posting to blogs, wikis, forums, and FAQs. They thinks their statistics show that all employees with access to a computer worldwide use the system at least every week.
Save your ass
I've seen lots of companies and organisations come and go in the learning space. Many of these spent too much time discussing things privately and not enough time discussing things publicly with clients. In the end nakedness can become a competitive advantage and save your organisation from low visibility, sales and obscurity.