April 13, 2016

The Panama Papers Could Usher in a "Clean Society"

One day you’re Prime Minister of Iceland. Then some law firm in Panama gets hacked, your financial malfeasance makes the news, and a noticeable percentage of your population takes to the streets to demand you leave (check out this CNN video).

It took two days to oust a PM.

This new world of radical transparency is rough – on those with something to hide...and apparently that’s even more people than we thought.

Last fall, I wrote a piece in HBR about the rise of the “clean label” movement – a powerful trend driving change in the food and personal care products world. People want to know what’s in every product, recognize the ingredients (no long chemical names), and really understand what they’re eating and putting on their bodies.

As I suggested then, the level of transparency we want is likely the tip of the iceberg. I offered some questions for companies to ask themselves about their products, energy sources, executive pay, goals, and political donations. All of this should, and will, become public.

But this Panama Papers story makes me wonder if I was thinking too small. What if nearly everything is public? What does it mean for democracy? No more backroom deals or unknown political donations, no more corruption? Does the same apply to non-democratic regimes (I did notice that nobody is asking Putin to step down – he’s in the Papers also)?

I’m not sure where this is all headed, but it’s going to be quite a ride as we evolve from clean label to clean society. As Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants…

Better get all of our houses in order.

(Andrew's book, The Big Pivot, was named a Best Business Book of the Year by Strategy+Business Magazine! Get your copy here. See also Andrew's TED talk on The Big Pivot.

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