Relishing those juicy leaked memos? Bad idea.

society
"leak" by Wan Mohd

“leak” by Wan Mohd

Imagine you tell someone a secret, only to be betrayed.  Putting emotion aside for a moment, what happens next?

Most likely, you’ll subsequently either communicate uselessly bland info, blatantly misleading info, or no info at all to them in the future.  At a personal level, that’s a bummer for both people.  At a corporate level, the damage ripples throughout society.

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The leaking of corporate memos might seem either innocuous, societally useful, or both.  In reality, it is typically neither.

  1. It irreparably damages trust and valuable communications within institutions

    Recently, an apparently frank internal report written at the New York Times was leaked.  On principle, I refuse to read or link to it, but from the summaries I saw, it apparently focused on the newspaper’s struggles with digital distribution and declining readership numbers.  Undoubtedly in the future, that organization will blandify future memos and/or starkly curtail their internal distribution… bad for NY Times employees, but also unfortunate for those of us that are readers of that newspaper who depend upon its employment of skilled and motivated reporters.

  2. It hurts stockholders and is unhelpful to society at large

    Sure, it’s often fun — sometimes schaudenfreudically so — to learn of company’s struggles and to get insider info on its strategies, tactics, and so on.  One might even argue that this gives actionable information to stockholders of public companies, but IMHO any such advantage is offset by the likely loss of employee morale and productivity and/or damages to compromised competitive intelligence.  Of course, there should be moral exceptions for the leaking of information that is associated with real and immediate threats to safety and security, but beyond that… do we really benefit as a society knowing about changes in a corporate policy, partner realignments, and so on?

In a way, the leaking of corporate memos is a bit like the illicit drug world.  It takes someone to initiate (create the drug for resale, leak the memo), people to distribute (drug runners, bloggers, journalists), and an audience to eagerly consume and share that which provides short-term enjoyment but likely long-term harm.

Given this, my advice is likely to be both unsurprising and yet controversial.  Quit enabling this damaging behavior.  Stop reading these leaked memos, and stop frequenting sites that regularly encourage and feature such leaks.

With that said, I’m not optimistic.  In a firm of, say, 20,000 employees… it takes just one person to be a jerk (and violate their contract).  And we humans are notorious rubberneckers.  But hey, I can dream, right?

5 comments… add one
  • Sasch Mayer May 18, 2014

    Yes, you can dream, but I do think the voyeuristic aspect of human nature will win out on this one. It’s hardwired into the OS or something and there aren’t many exceptions to the rule running around the planet.

    Humans, huh?

    But in any case… “schaudenfreudically”… I’m righteously impressed. 😀

  • Adam Lasnik May 18, 2014

    Dang pesky humans :p.

    And Sasch… I just realized that I may indeed be the originator of that word!

  • Mercedes May 20, 2014

    Exaclty! those pesky humans, it reminds me of the Liberty mutual commercials when they say that humans will undoubtly run into trouble, mainly ….other humans

  • Adam Lasnik May 20, 2014

    Heh, indeed, Mercedes, how true!

    On a different note, er, venue… you and others might also enjoy seeing the rather robust discussion about this entry taking place here on Google+.

  • Chris Brads Jun 8, 2014

    Absolutely love ‘schadenfreudically’. But in response, I absolutely agree but I think it points to weak HR and internal communications. I have found that people tend to talk negatively about work, even just to friends, when they do not feel able to talk in their own organisations.

What do you think?