Living in a Transparent World

Today, we live in a world of near-total transparency. Google, Wikipedia, and many other websites make it possible to check any fact almost instantaneously. As a leader, speaker, or author, you have to be particularly careful with your statistics. If you exaggerate the facts, you will be found out. And the results can be embarrassing—or worse.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell, Image #6975040

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell

For example, we occasionally get proposals from authors who claim to have a blog that draws thousands of visitors. In fact, about a week ago, I had an agent claim that his client was “the most popular Christian blogger on the internet.” Perhaps he was just taking the author’s word for it. Maybe he was using hyperbole. Unfortunately, for him—and his client—this kind of claim can be easily checked.

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I immediately went to Compete.com and entered his blog address. I compared it with some of the top Christian bloggers I know, including several of our authors. (If you register with the website, they will allow you to compare up to five sites.) In less than 30 seconds, I had a pretty good idea of what his traffic was—at least, relative to the other bloggers—and that his claim was bogus. He was no where near having “the most popular Christian blog.” In fact, his traffic was unimpressive. The agent instantly discredited himself and his client with me.

Today, thanks to Bowker PubTrack and Nielsen BookScan, publishers can also verify sales on previous books. Most literary agents I have dealt with are honest, but a few still “round the numbers up”—some round them way up. This is just stupid. It is a very dangerous game.

Publishers can quickly figure out who is blowing smoke and who is not. The available information is not perfect, to be sure, but it is only going to get more accurate and readily accessible. Within the next year or two, publishers will know exactly what an author’s previous sales were. Since previous sales are a major variable in determining royalty advances, there will be fewer publishers suckered into overpaying for books because they don’t have access to the data.

I am using the publishing world as an example, because it is the one I am the most familiar with. This same phenomenon is occurring in almost every other field as well. People are not going to get away with embellishing the facts much longer. It’s just too easy to validate the claims.

So how do you survive in this brave new world of total transparency? Simple. Tell the truth. This means at least four things:

  1. Commit to total transparency. Because of technology, you don’t really have a choice. You might as well embrace it now; it’s a much easier way to live. You will never have to worry that someone is going to discover something about you that you don’t first reveal.
  2. Be the first to “air dirty laundry.” If you break the news, you control the story. For example, one of my authors was recently arrested. He made an honest mistake, and it could have happened to anyone. But he immediately blogged about it, and took the wind out of the media’s sails. No one could accuse him of covering it up, and the story quickly died.
  3. Understate the facts. Get in the habit of “rounding down.” Don’t inflate the numbers. If you say that you have 10,000 unique visitors a month, and the person double-checking your claim discovers that you actually have 10,970, your credibility goes up. The opposite is also true.
  4. Manage others’ expectations. The bigger the gap between what people expect and what they get, the bigger the WOW they experience. By the way, this is the dirty little secret of big royalty advances. I have seen many, many best-selling books be perceived by publishers as a failure simply because they paid the author more than the book recouped.

The truth is that this is how we should live with or without modern technology. This is the very essence of honesty—making our words line up with reality.

Question: Can you think of an example where someone was embarrassed because of how easy it was to double-check the facts? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://abramovitz.wordpress.com Jeff Abramovitz

    Hmm…"Do not lie", "Do not steal", et al…where have I heard those before? Were important thousands of years ago when first spoken/written on a tablet and still critical to living successfully in this world today!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yep, it's amazing how relevant that ancient wisdom is!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/colleencoble colleencoble

    We authors are always curious about how the tracking works. I've heard some outlets aren't counted at those places. True or false?

    Great post, Mike! This may help pubs and authors negotiate more realistic advances which will be beneficial to all of us!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, that is true. For example, BookScan does not include Wal-Mart or Sam’s. PubTracks does not include Family or Lifeway. You have to consider these as representative samples that are not entirely accurate. That's why I made the point that this will change over the next year or two. It's inevitable.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JakeSchwein JakeSchwein

    The truth is always found out…my dad used to tell me this growing up and it has been true ever sense!

  • http://BuildingHisBody.com Anne Lang Bundy

    "For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light." (Luke 8:17 NKJV)

    The most important reason to be transparent is that our lives and words are a testimony to the One who owns us.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Amen!

  • http://blog.artistgardenentertainment.com Keith Stancil

    Great post! I come from the music world where we were trained to pump up numbers even with the introduction of Soundscan. There was always some reason Soundscan wasn't accurate or some sly way to boost up the Soundscan numbers. I actually love living in the reality that the internet provides. I credit Target and their demanding criteria with forcing the music world to be honest.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, the truth is so much easier for everyone. As someone once said to me, "The facts are friendly." In other words, if we can get to the truth, we can deal with it.

  • http://mikalatos.blogspot.com Matt Mikalatos

    Hmmm. I can't get the stats for my blog to show up on Compete.com. Maybe it means I am beneath their notice?

    Anyway, great post.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Try it without the www. For example, for my blog, I just enter michaelhyatt.com.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/marcusgoodyear marcusgoodyear

    Question: when does "total transparency" turn into inappropriate and exhibitionist confession? Surely, we can reserve some piece of ourselves from the public eye.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I certainly agree. There is a line between transparency and exhibitionism. I think we have to still be wise and discreet.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Beaconhillnw Jim

    Integrity is huge in any business.

  • http://SydrycalWorks.com Sidney

    Your EJECTMENT is SUBJECT!
    Instead of being concerned about giving someone a royalty
    that is perhaps to hefty or whether someone embellishes a
    bit much shouldn't you be focusing all of your attention on
    just how GOOD the book is? Truth is in the PRODUCT, not
    the shelf you pick it off of. Are you the ceo of a publishing firm
    or a FIRING SQUAD?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I have no idea what you just said. Sorry.

      • http://SydrycalWorks.com Sidney

        Michael,
        You have got to be kidding me. You have no idea what I am saying.
        Okay. Let us start at the beginning. You receive a proposal from author or agent of author. Does the lack of that which you require as a 'plentiful platform performance' identify the book proposed as
        inferior? No. Here is the point I am making that you say you are clueless about. It is the vital duty of a [true] christian and I use the word true here since you used it multiple times. A true christian is duty bound to not have or use a disposition that shall condemn without first having a clear and a certain knowledge. And even after having what you think is a judgement call against it is your duty to look back upon yourself for having first brought the negative disposition to the format to begin with. Of course if none of that makes any sense you can always take a look at some of the following.-Matthew7:1-6,
        Luke 6:37, Romans2:1-11, Ezek. 16:52-, Romans 14:10-13,
        Luke 6:41, Colossians 4:1-6. The general rule of the greater
        [truth] is-judge that ye be not judged.

        • http://www.nighton.net/ David Love

          "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you."

          Seems like Michael is more than willing to be judged by the standard he has set for others. As for Sidney? Not so much.

  • http://www.emergingintofaith.com Dr. David Frisbie

    This is extremely wise advice for all of us, in any field. What you are suggesting is essentially Christian humility. "Let no one think more highly of himself than he ought…." Well said, and applicable to any field, including books, authors and publishing.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That is a great verse. Once of my favorites.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    Wise advice but a sad reflection on the state of humanity that this advice needs to be given!

  • http://www.godmessedmeup.blogspot.com Pam Hogeweide

    Exaggerating and embellishing makes for a better story. (You should have seen the fish that got away type stories…) But yep, the internet will out you eventually if you attempt to invent something about yourself that is not true.

    I know someone who talked about how successful their zine was and that if I helped write some articles it would attract more readers to my blog. Ok. I took the bait. I wrote some killer articles. I mean KILLER. I watched my stats. Maybe one or two curious visitors mosied over. But it was nothing close to the forecasting he did. I don't know if he's just a talker or is unschooled about how to read his own traffic reports. But now I am left to guess how accurate he can be about such things.

  • http://SydrycalWorks.com Sidney

    correction: too hefty(from previous comment)

    *of note-in the biblical exchange between the woman
    of Samaria and Jesus/Lord. The woman when told by
    Jesus/Lord, "Go, call thy husband, and come hither,"
    the woman answered, "I have no husband." Jesus/Lord
    who knew all truth, said to the woman "Thou hast had
    five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy
    husband in that said thou truely." The idea here is not
    that the woman is less than forthcoming in the ongoing
    'book' of her life, but that as she continues her 'book of life'
    and she submits it to the 'grande publisher in the heavenly sphereafter.
    Her book, rather than reflect her non-ecclesiastical journey,
    her lies and disception, will cry out "best-seller" to all eternity.

  • http://www.mysticmadness.com Personal Growth

    Very Interesting Indeed. Blog or website, I think it is nearky impossible to bluff. Also traffic generator are mere fake instruments and have zero effect. Also one should ask for google analytics login for guest in order to verify statistics. Compete and alexa together are also fabulous option. We prefer to show data on google analytics and also google to do talking for us.

  • http://www.linxcorp.com Steve

    I've read the theme of this advice somewhere else recently….. hmmm something about the little things matter and it's wise to sweat the small stuff ( Chapter 7 of Andy's book). Congratulations and thank you!

  • http://www.publishedauthors.net/robsargeant Rob Sargeant

    I heard someone once describe pride as, trying to be seen as more than you really are. This is what you're talking about here. The challenge is, as an author to build a platform, and promote our work, while remaining honest and humble. Sounds funny. Humble self-promotion.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, it is definitely a balancing act. Thanks.

  • Joel

    Honesty is the best policy. This is particularly relevant for anyone seeking a job in this recession. Never embellish a resume or prior work experience. Your background will be confirmed and though you may get the job initially, it'll be a “very, very bad day” when you're found out and words gets around in your industry, as it inevitably will. Living life in honestly is much refreshingly much easier. Thank you for the post.

  • http://reflectionsbykrista.blogspot.com Krista Phillips

    Ugh, and then you have people like me who are TOO black and white. "No, I'm sorry, that wasn't 10,100 visitors. It was 10,098. So sorry about that!"

    I loved your point about managing expectations as well! I'd much rather WOW someone with more rather than disappoint them with less… I think this is also why it’s hard sometimes to “sell” yourself to agents/editors (spoken from an unpubed writer), because of the fear of not meeting the expectations you’ve created.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, this is a challenge, especially as you are trying to get them to read it.

  • T. Anne

    I think for some people transparency can be painfully embarrassing. Although in today's world of click and point it would be embarrassing not to be.

  • http://terripatrick.wordpress.com/ terri patrick

    As someone who's been closely acquainted with the world of data mining and the wonders, of speed of light, from technological revelations, for many years, I'm thrilled that we now have point-n-click exposure of a scam.

    Invisibility of a personal nature is still – the choice – of the individual. The global internet connection doesn't need information about bodily functions. Big Brother may be watching, but really isn't interested, so why tell?

    Honest and humble people should make a point to promote themselves, their work, their truth, the wonders that are possible by being truthful and joyful humans. We are not dull!

    True humility comes from the awareness that God is awesome, amazing, so much greater than anything I could do, be, say. But – I am created by God, loved by God and totally treasured by the angels. I have this talent, granted to me by God, that I have worked to enhance….

    Get the picture? :)

    (of course, you have to really work to enhance that gift. I hear it may take about 10,000 hours)

    Real humility means, this is the best I am today, and it is good, worthy, for today, while I am striving to improve…

    And the digital world now has the capability to grant you the tools to improve, or expose the fallacy you promote, or the joy you have to share. We're living in very exciting times!

    Using the Star Wars example of the Dark Side being the easier path, they were the ones with the technology on their side. But now it's easier for the Light Side to use the same tools and say – NOT!

    The more we fear, the more we falter.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/DayleShockley Dayle Shockley

    Can anyone say The New York Times? They've been busted more than a few times for not getting their facts straight.

    What I don't understand is why nobody in the mainstream media calls politicians on the carpet when they spout off numbers pulled from the air about such and such a policy or issue. Most of the time, their facts aren't facts at all. Blowing smoke, as you say.

    My philosophy is, always tell the truth and you don't have to remember what you said.

  • Eric

    Mike, what you said about your author controlling (and diffusing) the story by blogging about it is so true. He is my favorite Nelson author and I only heard about this last week. Transparency is a worhty goal, personally and corporately.

  • http://ebussey.blogspot.com Elizabeth Bussey

    How thankful I am to have a God who is in control of all things so I can just be the me He created me to be. There is an indescribable peace that comes from resting in His sovereignty. Though it has been a difficult lesson to learn, I'm so glad I'm not in control!

  • http://churchethos.wordpress.com ChurchETHOS

    You said, "1. Commit to total transparency" / I say, "My blog has hardly any traffic and I probably won't be getting too much more."
    You said, "2. Air dirty laundry" / I say, I only post about three times a week. (Maybe less)
    You said, "3. Understate the facts" / I say, I get a little more than 25 visitors per week.
    You said, "4. Manage people's expectations" / I say, Keep them low when you visit my site!

    Now that I've confessed, what are my odds of getting a book deal? :)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Maybe your blog is not the asset you should be selling. ;-)

  • http://SydrycalWorks.com Sidney

    Michael,__Reply left to your "sorry, I have no idea what you just said", statement.__Ah yes. Truth. Spiritual reality or subterranean truffle to be eaten.__Thanks, for a great blog you have here!____Aposiopesis my friend.

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  • http://that-which-is-real.blogspot.com/ Carl S. V.

    I find it so easy for many to be a critic and judge others who are in leadership roles, and it happens when we lose sight of just how much that leader suffered in order to get where they are now.

    Perhaps we might be more merciful and less judgmental if we ourselves went through the process of preparation which they themselves went through.

    I am simply saying ‘before you judge another, put yourself in their shoes” and let us not be so quick to jump down Michael’s throat.. Let us suffer his trials and temptations and then let us speak. Perhaps then we will have learnt to be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath, for the wrath of man works not the love of G-d.. James 1:19-20………..

    Sincerely Carl S. V.

  • David

    of course compete is US-only, so a popular blog in say Europe won't even feature

  • http://www.rose-publishing.com Gretchen Goldsmith

    The book publishing stats might be trustworthy, but I've seen so many gray areas I have increasing doubts. What kinds of products are slipping through the cracks?

    1. Short format books with low page counts. Up until a few years ago Bowker wouldn't give ISBNs to books with less than 12 pages. This is a problem for several kinds of publishers including children's publishers, and in my case, booklet publishers.

    2. Multiple SKU configurations. Some companies sell a product in different quantities under a different ISBN. A perfect example is a 10-pack or a pre-packed cardboard display.

    3. Lack of Cooperation between Reporting Agencies. Add to the problem that some reporting agencies don't want to work together and won't share data. For obvious confidentiality reasons, the list maker cannot share who has participated, therefore we have no idea where the list's weaknesses are.

    4. Members Only. There are some organizations that will take stats only from their members.

    5. Confidentiality. There are several publishers that don't share their stats with anyone and don't belong to associations. Who knows how much they move?

    Is there a solution? Yes, "Best Seller Lists" should have disclaimers. They should reveal (in generalities only) who is and isn't participating and what kind of distribution is being counted. Only then can their be true transparency.

    –Gretchen Goldsmith, President, Rose Publishing

  • http://frostfirepulse.com/ RichardOn

    Interesting site, but much advertisments on him. Shall read as subscription, rss.

  • GrantParish

    I just ran into an example where being transparent made me change my mind about using a vendor. I saw your tweet about Milk Engine and the company had designed your blog. I need some web press programming help so I checked out their web page and decided to follow John Saddington (human3rror) on twitter. HIs tweets have been unprofessional and strange including a page on his blog urging readers to tell how husbands have failed. Based on this, I ‘ve changed my mind about hiring Milk Engine.

  • http://twitter.com/leebarroll @leebarroll

    Great Post. Now I just need to make sure my story matches the facts.
    My recent post How do we value our house if we are considering divorce or separation?

  • http://www.lisaknowstea.com Lisa Boalt Richardson

    Well said! It is a lesson for not only those in the public eye, but for life. Also a great lesson to teach your children by leading by example.

  • http://www.HireJohnNemo.com John Nemo

    Great post Michael! I think #2 scares many organizations or individuals who still think “duck and cover” is the best PR strategy. But I can’t tell you how many times we see organizations get destroyed in the mainstream and social media spheres because they don’t “own” their story right away and get out ahead of everyone else with the truth. What’s the old PR axiom? Tell the truth and tell it FIRST. Huge lesson more brands need to learn.

    One recent example of a person doing it well was here in Minnesota with our soon-to-be new Governor, Mark Dayton. He’s a recovering alcoholic who has had a lifelong battle with depression. But rather than bury it, he actually owned it and talked about it a ton at the beginning of the campaign, answering any and all questions anybody had about it, what recovery taught him, how he copes with his depression, etc. By the end of the campaign and election night is was a moot point – I don’t even think anybody remembered it. His opponents had given up trying to attack him on it, and the public didn’t seem to care since Dayton wasn’t trying to hide anything about his past. Kudos to him and his PR team for airing his dirty laundry first and being honest. Like with your author, the story just never developed any legs after that.

  • http://www.scripturallyspeaking.org Bonnie Shelton

    It is sad to think that the Christian publishing business experiences the same dishonesty that is found in secular publishing and business. It would be great if there were a phenomenal difference!
    http://www.scripturallyspeaking.org

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. Alas, we have to recruit from fallen humanity as well.

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  • http://twitter.com/teitr teitr

    I’ve always told my children to live as though any moment of their lives might suddenly be on the news on tv. Of course, that means having to set the example. God sees everything we do; might as well be transparently honest :)

  • Tammy

    This is so interesting & being in the world of ministry~ couldn’t help but to think of how TRUE this is and how the numbers in church size are so exaggerated. Recently my husband (sr pastor) was told at a conferance… “you know your church is one of the only churches who counts by sunday attendance, most churchs count their size by how many people have stepped through the door EVER~ even if it was one time and they never came back OR if the family of 5 hasn’t attended in 5plus years”… that was very interesting! Thanks for the blog

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Wow. That is interesting. I think the temptation to fudge the numbers is constant—even in Church World.

  • Iamthewriteone

    I am working toward building regular, meaningful blog posts. Though I teach expository writing fulltime to middle schoolers and sometimes have longer periods between posts, I know the silent times online are ones that God will enable me to redeem later in some way – perhaps even through writing that helps others. I am learning how to use the technology in my life as a tool for writing. Your post confirms and encourages me to be faithful in the small things – even when I am not even a minnow in the ocean of great writers. But I am swimming and with integrity.

  • http://twitter.com/stephsday stephsday

    I’ll always remember a lunch meeting that I had with a business mentor several years ago. He said, “Always under-promise and over-perform.” 

  • Sydrycalworks

    David,
    I am ready, willing, waiting for my judgement. Are you sir? So much, your measure of my pronouncement beforehand. And; as for Sidney? Doing just fine 2 years later.
    Sidney
    jaggedlegsix@yahoo.com

  • Burl

    Is there an advantage to compete.com over alexa.com? You don’t have to register to use alexa.

  • Vrsinc

    Yes, sadly, the recent resignation of Yale’s football coach was due to false statements on his resume that just came to light: such as, no, he was never a Rhodes Scholar, as he had purported to be.

    But how can one be sure that one’s representatives will play it clean? Can I be sure, for example, that my publicist won’t exaggerate? I hope so, but. . .can I be certain?

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      I don’t think you can ever be certain someone will play it clean. You have to hire well and hope for the best.

      One helpful tip that you can do once you hire: Check their work until you’re sure they have the voice you’re looking for. If they don’t, coach them on what is acceptable. If they do, encourage them and schedule in check-ups to ensure they are continuing your voice.

  • http://www.impartinggrace.com/ Richella Parham

    I am hugely privileged to serve on the Ministry Team and Board of Renovare’, the spiritual formation ministry founded by Richard Foster.  When we all get together, I find myself wishing I were more accomplished than I am.  But I’m just an ordinary woman.  At our Ministry Team retreat this summer I was talking with Dallas Willard (who is one of my heroes, to be sure).  I said to him, “I really don’t have much of a resume.”  He just nodded and said, “And that’s just fine.” 

    Somehow, hearing Dallas Willard speak those words really drove home the point.  It really is fine for me to be who I am–but it’s not fine for me to try to look like something I’m not.

  • John Hauer

    This subject has been on my mind a lot lately. At some point soon companies (like people) may have to decide the value of security and privacy. New businesses will offer transparency as a competitive advantage. How will mature firms respond? They may not have a choice but to become transparent. As digital technology continues to evolve, secrets become harder to hide.

  • http://twitter.com/russhess Russ Hess

    Stating fact is always better than embellishing the truth yet even the truth can get you in trouble depending on your claim. This is especially true with financial improvement venues. Most avoid the describing exact dollar amounts or provide declaimers.

  • http://organistheidi.blogspot.com/ Heidi Bender

    I don’t have any examples to add, but I love the picture of the cat!

  • Gladneyf

    Agree totally! Truth !

  • http://www.facebook.com/Pastorstarbucks Daniel Bradford

    My mother would say “I’ve told you a million times, never exaggerate” and my 15 year old son told me just the other day that “88% of all statistics were made up”
    That being said, I speak and write with fear and trembling and thus delete alot of posts… I’m reading your book “Platform” and am thankful for your generourosity to share such good stuff!
    Thanx and God Bless you!
    PS