There are three harmless-sounding words that are slowly but surely clawing their way towards internet omnipresence. Like the Harlem Shake, the more they appear the more likely people are to repeat them, so that they’re now the suffix to what must be half the Twitter bios in existence:
Views my own.
They’re so ubiquitous that it’s easy to miss them entirely, like an amazing view that familiarity has transformed into an unremarkable backdrop. And, when you do notice them, the natural recourse is to think they’re no more than a sign of creeping legalese; a preemptive defence against prowling lawyers. We want to mention our organisation - that’s good for follower numbers, after all - but we’ve been issued with a strict edict to separate our views from our company’s, to make it clear that our off-the-cuff tweets in no way resemble the heavily vetted opinions of the behemoth we work for.
But there’s something very wrong here.
Distinguishing our views from those of our organisation demands the assumption that an organisation can actually hold a particular view. And let’s be clear - it can’t. Saying a company has a view is like saying a restaurant has a favourite food. The chefs and waiters who work there will each have their own tastes, and they might even all concede that crème brûlée beats black pudding, but, unless it’s a one-man operation, they’re going to disagree about the specifics. We’re a disagreeable bunch.
Of course, sometimes companies need, or want, to take an official stance, which is no bad thing - take various tech companies’ recent support of gay marriage. And there are organisations who have to be justifiably careful not to be seen to support any particular view - civil servants would have trouble claiming impartiality were they to overtly root for one particular party. But it’s very important not to assume a company’s official stance is the view of every employee. Not only is this sort of company-wide agreement statistically hugely unlikely, but we should actively embrace its absence.
Cultures in which diverse opinions are encouraged are more open, innovative and honest than those in which they’re censored or distanced from official policy. This is true on both a national and a corporate level: censorship in North Korea hinders political change, while free speech in the Western world empowers people to oust governments; Google’s 20% time encourages employees to pursue visions not on the company’s main agenda, while a culture of subservience in the financial sector inhibits creativity. Encouraging opinions fosters innovation, while discouraging them is at best stifling and at worst dangerous.
Some of the largest conflicts in human history might have been avoided if the nuances of different opinions had been afforded more attention, and the views of the reigning minority been compared objectively to those of their subjects. We need national and company cultures in which people are encouraged to have different views, and can be honest about disagreeing with those at the top, since, as history shows, power rarely confers infallibility. Our global and business leaders should be encouraging these divergent views, instead of demanding that they be distanced from official policy.
The current assumption seems to be that, on Twitter and elsewhere in the media, you speak on behalf of your organisation unless you explicitly say so. We need to reverse this; views should be considered personal until proven corporate. The personification of a company or a country into a sentient being that can hold views, pass judgement and be ‘shocked’ by news events is an unhelpful metaphor that we should avoid at all costs. Instead, we need to treat our organisations as what they are: groups of people with different opinions, ideas and values. If we do that, we’ll be more innovative and our leaders will be more accountable. And there’ll be no more need for you to waste 12 precious characters writing Views my own. It’ll go without saying.