How Companies Can Leverage Transparency

Question: Can companies learn to promote total transparency?

Clay Shirky: We already know right that, that the highest value way company that sells a product, essentially the highest value from social media that company can get, is to allow costumer views directly on the site, right. It is a huge culture shift to do that, but the difference between a site where I can go in and just look at list of products, and the site where I can see, this one has three and half stars and that one has four and half stars. That’s often the difference between the research strip and a sale strip.

And don’t have a coordinated vision for this because a lot of it is going to either fail or produce surprises that you could never anticipated in advance. Have instead an ability to both fun and then kill things in 6 months cycles. You want to try this, go try it? There are more thing back off the page whether 2 lines of CSS Code. And companies that say no, no we only have a site redesign about every 18 months so we can’t touch this page--fix that first, right.

Because if you can’t make small relatively isolated, relatively independent, and relatively granular attempts to take advantage of what the internet is currently offering, you always lag your competitors.

 

Question: How can companies mitigate negative publicity?

Clay Shirky: One of the things I say to CEOs, whether for profit or non-profit business, is the lost of control you fear is already in the past, right. If you are afraid of losing control of the future that just mean you’re not using Google well enough because somewhere someone is having your nightmare conversation about your business right this second and there’s nothing you can do about it if your goal is to stop that conversation from happening. What you can do about it is you can either be so clear about what your business stands for or so clear about the kinds of products and services you shipped. But if there some incredibly rumor out there no one will believe you, right.

When you saw this in Obama. There’s been no, no rumor mill more empathic than the one directed at Obama from roughly June to November of last year [i.e. 2008]. Nothing stuck because people knew what the guy stood for them. Stuck in certain communities but nothing; that rumor mill did not have the effect of moving the electorate because he just, he was so incredibly clear about what he stood for.

And the other is if you can’t prevent people from talking about your products and offering comments about what they think is both good and bad and somebody else is generating their profit margin on the ability to talk about your products. Why don’t you get that margin?

And if the answer is you fear loss of control, you’re just not paying attention.

 

Question: What is the future of the employee-employer relationship?

Clay Shirky :The great story is Route 128 versus Silicon Valley. Route 128 was the home of the computer industry. It was where with the exception of IBM it was where all of the kind of innovative new steps coming. Digital Equipment Corporation specially right the avatar of the certain class of success in the computer industry.

But what Massachusetts does, and California does not, is Massachusetts enforces none compete agreements which is to say I can essentially take a computer scientist and put them to the state that’s very much like endangered servitude because they can’t change jobs and continue to think about computer science. So what I meant was anybody who went to work in California could change jobs in Silicon Valley by pulling into different driveway on Monday morning and anybody quit in Massachusetts have to move to California to get any other work.

So the shift from tightly controlled, tightly edge-bounded corporate hierarchies, to what the guy working for me today could be working for somebody else tomorrow and the woman of that company that I want to recruit could come over here, means that businesses have to compete on something other than contractual lock up.

That condition that started up in computer industry, has now spread incredibly broadly. And one of the things that I learned, I was the chief technology officer of a web shop called Site Specific in the 90s and one of the things that I learned at the time when people could change job by getting out of the different subway stop in the morning, was if our employees felt like while working at Site Specific they were learning. Not just working but learning. That meant that any moment they decided to leave their value would be higher because they’d stayed with us another three months, because we’re trying new things and talking with the staff about it not just making decision in the executive suite.

And the bargain is right, if you’re good people go then you suddenly find yourself with competitors you have trained. But over the long haul and I mean it was such a long haul because it such a crazy, crazy time in those days; everthing was so compressed. But our ability to retain people, the people we really want to keep on our staff, was really high--because if my value was increasing while I’m staying with the company that’s the bargain I’m going to keep doubling it down.

Recorded on: May 7, 2009

 

The new media consultant explains why companies should not be afraid of total transparency.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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