Prediction: Personal transparency is something you will have to deal with over the next 10 years. It is applies not only to your everyday life, it applies to businesses and will probably be the biggest denominator in building a brand.

Let’s start with a definition of transparency. I found something that Aaron Sylvan said in his compelling:

The first step of Transparency is being able to “see through yourself”. Second comes the ability to clearly see through others. Then comes an improved ability to control what influences yourself, as well as what influences others. And when we’re confident enough to be free of the desire to influence others, we finally gain the opportunity to have a true conversation: one in which participants are engaged in a collaborative exploration to find a greater truth than either could have reached alone.

Where did transparency start getting momentum? Let us look at it from a business perspective. Amazon was at the forefront when they opened the online store and began asking their customers to do ratings on the products.

Sounds innocent and logical enough to the consumer – why not give them my opinion, I might help someone else. One can only imagine the push back that manufacturers had about people openly rating their products online. One bad review could kill a product. Think again, it might be the ticket to boosting your sales.

The fact is that products have good and bad aspects. Nothing is perfect – and that applies to us.

Figure 1. Johari Window

It is easy enough to talk about transparency when we focus on someone else – how about when we look at our own brand. You do not have to have a business. Your brand is a combination of what you tell people and what people know about you. When the two do not match up, your brand suffers.

Let us look at how the Johari Window (Figure 1) can help to explain transparency. The basic model implies that there are two facets to our selves – what we know or others know about us and what is unknown by either party. How we choose to share that information with ourselves or with others defines where we are in the model.

If we have a good understanding of ourselves, both the positive and not so pleasant – we have two choices, to keep it private (hidden area) or share with it others (open/free area).

When there are parts of us that we just avoid acknowledging or exploring and others do not see these behaviors either, we are operating in the unknown area. However, if others see things we do not want to embrace or try to ignore, we are clearly operating with blinders on (blind area).

Branding traditionally operates in the open or free area and if there is self-disclosure, it is heavily censored or moderated (Figure 2). Today, consumers, clients, people in general want more information before making a decision to work with you or befriend you so the push is to open up the window more (the arrows represent the push).

As you look at your branding strategy, evaluate what you let people know about you and whether that matches up with what they think about you.

Figure 2. Opening your Johari Window

Getting feedback from others is the quickest way to learn about our blind spots and to figure out what does not match up with our self-perception. Sometimes we like what we hear and other times we want to be in denial. It can be quite frustrating when someone just does understand you. Pause, take a deep breath and consider maybe they do get it.

In a previous post, I used the word mumble – why because it happened and reality is so hard to beat. When the mumbler read it, he almost tore my head off. For the word mumble, I am thinking…good thing he did not know in an earlier draft I had mumble, mumble, and then edited it.

He thought I was describing an idiot, someone who can’t speak intelligently and is uneducated. All these things do not apply to him, but when pressed he concedes he mumbles. We all know it; he thinks he hides it. Wrong.

The mumbler thinks it might hurt his brand and clients might not want to work with him. “They will think I can’t communicate!” he says. Rest assured, all your previous clients and friends already know about this trait. We all have traits that represent quirks or idiosyncrasies that we might like to be different.

In this example, accepting his quirkiness would have been more transparent. Acknowledging something can have two effects. The first is it becomes a non-issue. People move on when there is agreement.

The second is to make it apart of your uniqueness and highlight it. Mumbling might not be the easiest trait to catapult into a compelling personal brand quality, though consider if he is mumbling, it has to be important – it is a sign that his thinking is faster than his words. He’s working for us on overdrive! Perhaps you have a better way to position it.

Regardless if you choose to ignore, manage, embrace or control your brand, remember that it is in the hands of others and they trust imperfection more than perfection.