Ethan Bernstein, Management DBA
Thesis Chair: Amy Edmondson, Nitin Nohria
Does Privacy Make Us Productive?
We have grown accustomed to calls for transparency. Transparency, or accurate observability, of an organization's low-level activities, routines, behaviors, output, and performance provides the foundation for both organizational learning and operational control, and it has an untarnished reputation: rarely does one hear about any negative effects of transparency or problems stemming from too much transparency. Nonetheless, using data from embedded participant-observers and a field experiment at the second largest mobile phone factory in the world, located in China, I introduce the notion of a transparency paradox, whereby maintaining observability of workers may counterintuitively reduce their performance by inducing those being observed to conceal their activities through codes and other costly means; conversely, creating zones of privacy may, under certain conditions, increase performance. This research suggests that careful design and implementation of zones of visual privacy within an organization is an important performance lever but remains generally unrecognized and underutilized. Paradoxically, an organization that fails to design effective zones of privacy may inadvertently undermine its capacity for transparency.