I grew up in a small town, a place where everyone knows everyone pretty much, where you go to school with the same group of people from kindergarten through high school, a place where that embarrassing mistake you made in second grade never completely goes away. There are no secrets, at least not for long.
Things are different in a small town because you are rarely anonymous. Interactions on the roads, in grocery stores - anywhere at all really - are never a one-shot game, you always have to be aware that there will be a next time, aware that your reputation informs and is informed by every interaction. When you apply for a job, your whole history comes with you, there's no need for anyone to Google anything but their own brain to know your life story. If you are a business owner, repeat business is everything and you have no chance at all if the town loses trust in you.
This is not an earth-shattering observation or anything, but as I was reading this column by Thomas Friedman on the new realities of the digital world, about how young people need to be aware that their lives are being recorded like never before, I was struck by how much it sounded just like that town:
The World is Watching: ...The implications of all this are the subject of a new book by Dov Seidman, founder and C.E.O. of LRN... His book is simply called “How.” Because Seidman’s simple thesis is that in this transparent world “how” you live your life and “how” you conduct your business matters more than ever, because so many people can now see into what you do and tell so many other people about it...
For young people, ... this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier. More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. ... For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their résumés, they’ll Google them.
“The persistence of memory in electronic form makes second chances harder to come by,” writes Seidman. “...[L]ife has no chapters or closets; you can leave nothing behind, and you have nowhere to hide your skeletons. Your past is your present.” So the only way to get ahead in life will be by getting your “hows” right. Ditto in business. Companies that get their hows wrong won’t be able to just hire a P.R. firm to clean up the mess...
“We do not live in glass houses (houses have walls); we live on glass microscope slides ... visible and exposed to all,” he writes. So whether you’re selling cars or newspapers (or just buying one at the newsstand), get your hows right — how you build trust, how you collaborate, how you lead and how you say you’re sorry. More people than ever will know about it when you do — or don’t.