Opinion

Alex Beam

The pitfalls of ‘radical transparency’

epa05111102 (FILE) A file picture dated 16 September 2014 of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings arriving for the Netflix party in Berlin, Germany. Netflix is to release their 4th quarter results on 19 January 2016. EPA/BRITTA PEDERSEN *** Local Caption *** 51572622
BRITTA PEDERSEN/EPA
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

Prairie-dog like, I occasionally lift my head out of the ground to savor a new cliché. One of my favorites: radical candor.

I remember reading about billionaire/business sage Ray Dalio championing “radical transparency” at his super-successful Connecticut hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates. At Bridgewater, everyone tells everyone else exactly what they think of them or of their ideas.

The New York Times reported that Bridgewater used to show new employees a video of “a confrontation several years ago between top executives including Mr. Dalio and a woman who was a manager at the time, who breaks down crying.” The Times explained, “The video was intended to give . . . a taste of Bridgewater’s culture of openly challenging employees and putting them on the spot.”

Advertisement

Radical, man.

Get Today in Opinion in your inbox:
Globe Opinion's must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

When not browbeating employees, Dalio is hawking his 600-page guide to success, “Principles,” which “is beautifully written and filled with such wisdom,” according to Ariana Huffington.

Netflix founder Reed Hastings said that “Principles” “had a profound positive impact on my leadership style,” as evinced in a recent Wall Street Journal report on life at his go-go streaming empire. At Netflix, “where radical candor and transparency are among the highest virtues,” the paper said, “the culture, at its worst, can also be ruthless, demoralizing and transparent to the point of dysfunctional.”

What would radical candor look like in the newspaper? Pretty scary, I’d say.

For instance, who wants to read the truth about baseball, now boring beyond belief? It’s not particularly athletic, it’s not very interesting, and now they expect us to stay up to 3 a.m. to see an outcome? Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Advertisement

Radical candor about politicians; who needs it? Senator Elizabeth Warren, a.k.a. The Big Noise? Tiresome, predictable, not exactly wedded to radical transparency where the whole Native American ancestry question is concerned. Nice try with the DNA gambit, which has played to mixed reviews.

Donald Trump and his outriders? “The worst are full of passionate intensity,” William Butler Yeats warned us almost exactly 100 years ago. They were then, and they are now.

Tired of whining about Trump? (Because I am certainly tired of hearing you whine about Trump.) Why don’t you drive a few hours into Maine and help get out the vote in the toss-up Second District there? It’s the nearest hotly contested House of Representatives seat, and even your small effort, if not dispositive, will make you feel better about yourself.

More candor: If you have to take out full-page ads in newspapers across the country explaining your corporate policies, you are probably a bad actor. Yes, you Purdue Pharma, and you, Bayer-Monsanto.

Speaking the truth in love, as St. Paul urged us to do (Ephesians 4:15): It’s depressing to think that Tom Brady will be selling us junk supplements and dodgy diet advice for the rest of our natural lives. What a mawkish end to a wonderful career.

Advertisement

Ah yes, diets. Here is a sentence an editor strongly advised me not to put in the paper 10 years ago: Food journalism is to journalism as military justice is to justice. But you know it’s true.

If you have to take out full-page ads in newspapers across the country explaining your corporate policies, you are probably a bad actor.

And that’s the rub: Is candor really such a special commodity? My wife and I still quote a line written by the late Caroline Knapp in the no-longer-extant Boston Phoenix:

When your girlfriend or partner emerges from the hairdresser, Knapp wrote, there is only one thing she wants to hear: “You look just like Michelle Pfeiffer.” Perhaps it isn’t always true, but sometimes it’s better to be nice than right.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.