A millennial asked me about corporate life the other night.

She only talked to me because her iPhone had run out of battery. When there's no way to play Candy Crush, humans are your only resort.

She wanted to "share." Which I always translate as: "I want to talk about myself."

She told me that, having worked at least three weeks at Insert-Company-Name-That-Child-Could-Have-Made-Up-Here, she was disappointed she didn't know everything about how the company operates.

"Disappointed" is millennial for pissed.

"Think of it like relationships," I tell millennials.

I assume everyone realizes that corporations are people too. So the best way to think about corporate life is to think about your last lover and consider the flow of the relationship. How did all start? Did you meet online? Of course you did. Which is not unlike scanning a resume and deciding an interview is worthwhile.

"Did your lover immediately offer all their personal details after the third glass of sauv-in-a-box?" I ask."Did they tell you about the mistakes they'd made, the sixteen previous relationships they'd had that 'meant nothing,' the strange fantasy they have involving Channing Tatum, Olivia Munn, a large box of candy and an ox?"

"I have a fantasy like that," they sometimes say. Because they need to share.

This is just before they admit that one of the reasons the relationship went wrong was that they discovered something about their lover that made them feel as queasy as when their dad jiggled topless to "Who Let the Dawgs Out?"

"So," I say. "Why do you need to know everything about the body you work for?"

When I said this to millennial Clarissa, she replied: "Well, because it should all be about transparency."

It's a terribly trendy word, one for which I blame Google and Facebook. Here were companies that claimed to do no evil, created software that was more open than a drunken uncle at a wedding, wanted to connect the whole world and encouraged everyone to, yes, share.

They turned out to be advertising companies that could be remarkably secretive about several things they're involved in.

The minute people hear "transparency," they not only think that the corporation will divulge everything it does, but that employees, investors and even members of the public deserve to know.

You'd think the world was fair, wouldn't you?

You'd imagine that honesty actually was the best policy. (Ask any insurance company how honest their policies are and they'll refer you not to the Head Of Transparent Morality, but to their Legal Department.)

Why, in a world where competition is lauded as the first wonder of humanity, would corporations suddenly start being open?

Maximus Decimus Aurelius ululates politely to gladiator twice his size: "I'm about to swing my sword in the direction of your midriff! I ululate this in the spirit of transparency!"

The obsession with transparency has surely come about because information wants to be free. Allegedly. We're all posting more and more about ourselves on public forums, so that Google and Facebook can make more money.

We've somehow decided that telling more people more things about ourselves makes us more likeable. More transparently likeable, that is.

But just as social networking is a game we play because we want to succeed, so corporations play the game of transparency because, at heart, it can be winning PR.

Just like on a date.

If I tell her that I watch chick-flicks and even cry at them, it'll make me seem just a little vulnerable. Girls like that.

A few months on, they're watching "Sleepless In Seattle" and she discovers he cries at chick-flicks with laughter and thinks they're Beelzebub's revenge for love being a twisted illusion.

Corporations' enthusiasm for transparency is (untransparently, of course) at about the same level as corporate enthusiasm for the annual general meeting. Unless there's something they can get out of it.

Transparency has to be managed and massaged. It's become part of the way many companies do business. It doesn't have to include 100 percent fact. The CEO would prefer it if it didn't. Indeed, one executive at a very famous, highly progressive company told me: "It's selective." And who does the selection?

Did I mention that it's just like a relationship?

It's rare in these Tindering, Grindring days that anyone really looks like their picture. But we have to make sure the picture looks good, don't we?

Then, when the relationship gets going and more information trickles out, you hope that both sides get what they need. In the end, though, both sides keep huge, sometimes shocking, secrets.

The good relationships are based on trust. More often that not, they end with distrust, disappointment and a curse or two.

The alleged transparency that existed in the relationship--it's likely both sides had different perceptions of it--made both sides feel good about themselves. Until it didn't. Such is the temporary nature of life itself.

Clarissa thanked me and said she now understood. She met her new man on OK Cupid three months ago. She'd just found out he was married. No, of course he didn't tell her.

 

Published on: May 1, 2015
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