How many terms & conditions have you accepted over the past few weeks?
My guess is that if you’re like everyone else, you hit “agree” quite often without wading through the legalese. My other guess is that, when you do this, you feel vaguely irresponsible and guilty.
Of course, the only thing that could possibly be worse than accepting legal terms without reading them is…well….actually reading them. Once in a great while, I decide that enough is enough, and begin to read through one of the lengthy disclosures. This, it turns out, is like setting the noble goal of reading dense literature from another century for your summer read: it is a goal filled with noble intention, but you rarely can drive yourself past the first few pages, particularly when you realize that you inadvertently purchased the Greek version of the book.
Since it’s fashionable to label the era we came from, the era we’re in, and the era we’re heading toward, I’ll do the same.
As the computers became more powerful and ubiquitous, we heard a number of pronouncements that we were moving into the Information Era. Certainly that is still true, but lets, for a moment, talk about the era we’re now in.
On the heels of a number of notable scandals – Enron and the recent mortgage meltdown, to name just two – the government has leapt into action and created new requirements for information regarding everything from privacy policies to credit delinquency processes to be disclosed in advance to consumers. I’ll therefore call today’s era “The Disclosure Era”.
Frankly, the Disclosure Era needs some improvement, and that improvement can start with each of us.
Although I won’t hazard a guess as to when this will happen, I predict the Disclosure Era will morph into the Clarity Era.
Just as “big data” is about making sense of a growing fire hose of inbound data, so too will the Clarity Era turn disclosures from incomprehensible nonsense to clearly categorized information that consumers can quickly understand. It may leverage visual feedback mechanisms, or easily digestible scorecards. However it happens, either through regulation or consumer backlash it will change.
So what’s the takeaway for those who write blogs and have responsibility to communicate with customers? It’s this: clarity begins with you. Here are two things you may want to consider:
- Remove artifice from your writing wherever you find it. The reason The Emperor’s New Clothes is so famous is because the little boy said what everyone in the town – including the Emperor – ignored: The Emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. Get your point across.
- Challenge yourself to envision a method for presenting information in your industry in a new, more clear, manner. Could you publish an infographic? Could you create a heat map, an intensity index, or some method for enabling people in your industry to digest information accurately and quickly?
We currently live in an era where companies are forced to disclose more, but customers are more confused. Where information volume intensifies, but actual knowledge recedes. Where data travels from one party to another instantaneously, but understanding is still elusive.
The Clarity Era is coming. And it starts with us.