Business Insecurity: Living in a Glass Bowl – Lessons from Walmart, Disney, Apple and IBM

Rob Enderle

With the proliferation of cameras in businesses and on phones, the ability to keep things private has never been more difficult. I was reminded of this today as I watched a story on the “Today Show” about a teenager who was allegedly intentionally hit by woman who wanted to drive into the parking spot the teenager was holding for her pregnant friend (who had just recently given birth) at Walmart. Turned out the driver of the car was the vice chair of the local school board where the girl went to school. The security video was on the “Today Show” and the story went viral.   

As a result, the school board is on the defensive, the woman will likely lose her position (and rightfully so) and the young girl is an instant celebrity. It never occurred to the driver that she might be making a career-ending decision (check out the mug shot). 

My first decade in tech was spent in IBM where the company still trained us to be aware of our surroundings and to not say anything about the company in any public setting in case someone was listening. We knew that if there was a leak and it was traced back to us, we would get a public promotion (everyone quoted was always a top IBM executive) and a private, sudden, retirement party. In those days IBM could have run against Steve Jobs’ Apple for security.  

But I’m thinking that it would be wise for firms to consider both the IBM and Apple security policies and improve on them now that we are increasingly living in a glass bowl.  

Let me explain.

The Glass Bowl

It takes a while for us to adjust to changes — often years — yet the ramp up of recording equipment around us has been far more rapid of late. People are putting cameras on their windshields, on their homes and businesses, and both use and carry them more often on their phones.   

You can certainly see evidence of people not getting this in celebrities where many seem to not understand that every slip, every drunken escapade, will be captured and played to millions while it damages their career, family life and image. The English royal family, not thought to be made up of stupid people, has particularly struggled with this, showcasing that understanding just how many cameras are focused on celebrities has taken over a decade (and will likely take longer) for them to get.

This doesn’t bode well for the rest of us who haven’t really started to realize that employers, competitors (for our jobs and competing companies), employees, ex-spouses and even our kids may be capturing and sharing intimate moments at any time. Young employees increasingly may become a source of bad behavior as they carry into companies practices that were acceptable and even funny in school, but which could be career-ending for both them and the person they are taping at work.  

In short, we are all in a glass bowl where our Internet searches, public actions and private meetings may at any time be shared on a public and/or social network. 

Adjusting to a Public Life: The Disney Mindset

Strangely enough, it isn’t really Apple or IBM that I think provides the best example of how to live in a world increasingly covered with electronic recording equipment. That was where I started my professional career and Walt Disney University, at the time, taught a concept of being on stage and off stage. When you were connected to Disney, you were on stage even if you were on break and were expected to behave in character and as if you were on camera.  


It forced a set of behaviors that ensured guests at the Disney properties always saw employees in character and behaving well. Granted, there were those moments like when a radio call went out that a young female guest had arrived without undergarments where it suddenly appeared like all of the male employees wanted to help with guest entry duties, but they were always courteous. 

I don’t think employees and executives will come to this naturally. I’m reminded that shortly after IBM instituted a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, at the training sessions, an IBM sales executive thought it would be wise to tell an off-color joke and suddenly joined the ranks of ex-IBMers. We can be slow learners, suggesting that it might be time to have regular chats with all employees about public behavior and that private behavior may no longer truly be private.

Wrapping Up: Living on Stage

Imagine seeing your CEO on the nightly news having a road rage moment, then imagine seeing yourself or an employee listed as an executive of your company in the same video. Now think which one of you is likely going to survive the event and you’ll get the point I’m trying to make.   

Think about that moment of deciding a strip club on a company lunch might be a good idea, that looking at porn at an airport or on a plane or even on a company trip is harmless, or that telling that great racial or gender joke is a great icebreaker, or getting back to your employer or family because you were picked up on a camera either because someone found what you were doing interesting or someone around you. Now think about the fact that the video being created today with you in it will be searchable in the future by employers, family and law enforcement doing unstructured data searches. 

It may not only be time to have a chat with your employees, but your kids, and maybe a little chat with yourself. Next time you lose your temper, or self-control, it could be a career-changing event and I think we all need to be more aware of this now that we increasingly live in a glass bowl.  



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