The Age of Accountability

Mark Twain once quipped, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” And for so long, this was so. But something is underway, a great shift toward truth or consequences.

Technology has transformed the times. Access to instant information has pulled back the curtain on the Wizards of Oz. It is no longer possible for organizations of any sort to carry on large-scale deception undetected. The rise of the Internet, the proliferation of social networking and global mobile adoption have combined to give truth a fighting chance. Here are just a few examples:

  • Not long ago, politicians could use revisionist history to describe their voting records, in order to align with shifting positions. Today, voting records and fact-check sites are a few clicks away.
  • Not long ago, businesses could make audacious claims about the effectiveness of their products. Today, real-world test data and stories from real users are just a few clicks away.
  • Not long ago, job applicants could fabricate resumes, invent fictious degrees and charm their way into positions. Today, degree verification is just a few clicks away.
  • Not long ago, oppresive governments could systematically malign groups of citizens, document the oppression, and continue to rule unscathed. Today, these “deep secrets” are being disclosed to the public and are often just a few clicks away. (Disclaimer: I’m neither endorsing nor condemning certain disclosure practices, merely emphasizing the FACT that they ARE occurring)

What is the result of this massive shift in the availability of facts? Simply this: Those in power must now tell the truth or risk removal. This applies to governmental leaders, business leaders, religious leaders and even chairpersons of local civic organizations. If you aspire to leadership in the 21st century, you’d best be prepared to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So, though it’s STILL true that you CAN’T believe most of what you read from a single, random Internet source, you’d best believe that a thorough search will turn up truth.

Let me close by asking this:

  1. How has the Age of Accountability changed your world as a citizen, employee or business leader?
  2. Who has won and who has lost, based on the shift from secrecy to exposure?
  3. What changes do you predict are still to come, as a result of the ease of access to facts?
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15 Responses to “The Age of Accountability”

  1. Melissa Kovacevic November 9, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    Nice post. Let’s tie to Age of Responsibility too! Would everyone please stop blaming everyone and everything else and take responsibility for your actions here and now…not just politician 😉

  2. This is true only if people value the truth. I’m afraid that too many are willing to have “truth” spoon fed to them, without caring enough to check its veracity. And too many are willing to feed it to them. Unfortunately the same technology that gives truth a fighting chance, also makes it easier to spread lies. Now a lie can make it all the way around the world (not just halfway) in the time it takes to click Publish.

    I hope that everything you say will come to pass. I long for the day when all of the snake-oil salesmen who peddle their versions of “truth” are held to account. But first people have to care. And that’s going to take more than just technology.

    • Thank you Larry,

      It is true that the majority will be too distracted by complexities or comforts to clamor for truth. But those who are willing to speak out now have bullhorns like never before. What once was constrained to a soapbox in the town square can now resound ’round the globe in mere moments.

      The technology doesn’t force anyone to care, but it empowers those who already care to share what they see and know. It only takes one loud, clear voice to bring truth to the table. Many may still reject it, but they will do so fully informed.

      So, I’m in agreement here: I don’t predict a wholesale global heart-change. But I do think that more lights will shine in dark spots. People can then make their choices with open eyes and informed minds.

  3. Unfortunately, some people only want the part of the truth that agrees with their own viewpoint. Years ago, the majority of media, except for the checkout tabloids, attempted to provide balanced, unbiased information to the public. Now many newspapers, news magazines, and television networks, not to mention all shades of internet opinion sites, seek to provide what they think their chosen niche audiences wants: sound bites and news as entertainment. I listen to NPR, and read the news headlines online, but have become wary about a lot of what passes for news coverage today.

    • I think you’re right that much of what used to be news has morphed into entertainment.

      I do think that, when truth is sought, it can now be found. So many sites offer real-world user reviews of products, services and places (travelocity, yelp) that brands no longer fully own their presentation.

      I appreciate your comment, and I hope to talk again.

  4. Hmm, very interesting perspective that I hadn’t thought of. Often, we hear about how vulnerable brands are to being misrepresented on the new world of the web, but the other side of that coin is that all ugliness is easily exposed. I suppose one could look at WikiLeaks as an outlandish example of this. Should governments be held accountable by a rogue online organization? Is that healthy or a problem?

    Food for thought, no doubt.

    • Hmm, I can’t mention said “outlandish example”. Last time I did, I got on a number of automated watchlists. I guess it’s one of those words (like Voldemort or BeatleJuice) that must not be named.

  5. Tristan, you and I are preaching from the same book – which puts me in very good company!

    As you and some of the earlier commenters have discussed, though, there is a world of difference between the availability of truth and its adoption by the public. The US elections just past show that only too well: those who shouted loudest to an electorate often barely paying attention frequently won their contests, no matter how outlandish their claims of their own virtues or their opponents’ vices.

    Social media and the proliferation of knowledge provide us an opportunity that no generation before us has had to expose lies and liberate ourselves as we free the truth from obscurity. Yet the struggle will not end there. Rather, the game has changed. Unearthing the truth is now easy; sorting through competing versions of the truth, and inspiring voters and consumers to care: those are the new battlefields.

    Exciting time to be alive, my friend. Keep up the brilliant work!

    • Fantastic, Ted.

      You’re so right. Those who don’t care aren’t suddenly going to just because truth is available. But for those who care to know, access means a great deal.

      I like our chances!

      Tristan

  6. THE age of accountability as you call it, is a welcome change for me! The only way out of the mess we have collectively put ourselves into and a great way to start dealing with the real issues instead of appearances. The shift towards truth or consequences is so scary to many because they have been told they need to “look the part”, “be pollitically correct” and other euphemisms for lying. This is a change driven by regular citizens. A “silent” but sure revolution that changes the whole game. We are being open to eachother and learning that power is to be shared. The power to lead, to follow, to build, to destroy is within us all. Thanks for your short, to the point post and bold invitation to rethink our role in this new age. I don’t think anyone can fathom the true implications of the shift. The most we can do is work on our own authenticity… before it’s too late!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Monica!

      I agree that the rise of social channels make it more difficult (and even a bit silly) to wear a poker face. People are increasingly demanding authenticity. Those that know who they are and are comfortable sharing honestly will have greater sway than those who continual to pretend.

      I’m looking forward to that.

      Tristan

  7. How true! You’ve touched on two of the four dimensions
    (Authenticity and Accountability) in my new book: “Navigating
    Integrity: Transforming Business As Usual Into Business At Its Best
    (http://www.integro-inc.com/About/NavigatingIntegrityBook.aspx) As
    Mother Theresa put it: “Honesty and transparency make you
    vulnerable; be honest and transparent anyway.”

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