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The Newsletter | Edition 072
In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.


There was a time when consumers and employees did not demand to know how the sausage was made. But today, they're expecting complete transparency, and rightfully so. When transparency becomes top priority, is anything else lost? Is it possible for mystery to exist in the age of full disclosure? Are there opportunities to infuse magic back into your internal and external processes in ethical ways?
  1. Lead the unexpected, from Sofia Caraza
  2. Model honesty and openness, from Amanda Medina
  3. Inspire magical emotions, from Natalie Berry
And this week, our illustrations from Shiqi Cao.


From Sofia Caraza


When uncertainty runs rampant and transparency is demanded rather than given, building mystery brings an opportunity to relish the mystique of business and the unknown: it gives us the power to intrigue, rather than predict.


Mystery snaps us out of snooze mode: it creates a buzz, converting data into a story people are eager to uncover through participatory discovery. While being transparent can be great practice for companies and relationships, it can backfire if treated as an end in itself. Too much of it can create a reactive blaming culture, fueled by distrust and resistance when things don’t go as expected.

Mystery has the power to level the playing field by framing uncertainty as an exciting learning experience. Facing the unknown forges connections by true affinity rather than status or the promise of advancement. That is how secret innovation societies can discuss business ideas regardless of identity, and how BCC parties subsist: with the promise of seeking the unknown together.

The music and gaming industries are miles ahead of us in forming this connection through cryptic campaigns. Such is the case with twenty øne piløts’ Trench album launch, which led with storytelling and gamification to design an internet scavenger hunt to find and decode clues, bringing fans closer to their brand.

Your turn now. Where will your brand’s next move lead the story?


Give a friend a mystery to solve over the weekend.


  1. Motivate to follow the trail. Is there a rabbit hole (indie games, Wikipedia topics, spooky foodie spots, cinematic experiences, or geocaching outings) that your friend has been craving to go to but hasn’t had the time? Is there a theme, or an upcoming holiday or birthday you can use to drive this mystery?
  2. Resist filling in the blanks immediately. Leave TMI at the door. Knowledge is power, but not knowing everything is a more powerful experience. What is this friend eager to uncover about this particular subject? What kind of stories or facts do they usually latch on to?
  3. Leave enough breadcrumbs. How will you dose information so that they don’t feel it’s too easy or too difficult to solve.
  4. Bring back the cliffhanger. What is the sweet spot where this can end that leaves them looking forward to the next experience?


From Amanda Medina


To many executives, vulnerability in leadership is a sign of weakness. Some leaders are encouraged or taught to hide emotion—that they must have clear lines drawn when it comes to their personal and professional lives, never showing doubt, apprehension, fear, or, worse, failure.


Being vulnerable reminds people that you are a human first and, importantly, that you know they are, too. Brené Brown, an expert on social connection, conducted thousands of interviews to discover what lies at the root of social connection. A thorough analysis of the data revealed what it was: vulnerability. “Vulnerability here does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be yourself. It means replacing ‘professional distance and cool’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure."

If you're having a difficult meeting and you're not on the same page, it's okay to step back and say "I can't think about this right now, can we try again tomorrow?" It’s the sort of conversation that doesn't often happen in organizations, but showing that you can be emotionally vulnerable allows others to be vulnerable, too. Companies can essentially break down walls built up over years and start to create an environment that allows people to operate from a place of comfort, honesty, and authenticity.


Adjust your company’s tone of voice to be more approachable and supportive, inviting employees to engage with you.


Archana Patchirajan, founder of a technology startup, had that direct approach when it came to her employees. When asked of one of Archana’s longest-standing employees what drove him and the rest of the team to stay with her, these are some of the things he shared:
  • “We all work as a family because she treats us as such."
  • “She knows everyone in the office and has a personal relationship with each one of us."
  • “She does not get upset when we make mistakes but gives us the time to learn how to analyze and fix the situation.”
If you look at these quotes, they suggest that Archana's relationship with her employees goes much deeper than employer/employee relationship. Archana shows vulnerability and, as such, receives the same in return.

Nix the Tricks

From Natalie Berry


In the context of magicians with wands and white rabbits, magic is harmless and enticing. But the core tactics of magicians—cognitive loopholes, misdirection, illusions of free will—can be unethical when applied to other situations, like driving, consuming news, and buying a product.


According to Gustav Kuhn, a magician turned psychology researcher at Goldsmiths University in London, “Magic works not because magicians have got real supernatural powers, but instead they hijack our brain and manipulate and exploit a lot of our blindspots and limitations to create their illusions.” At magic shows, we consent to be bamboozled because of the entertainment value we get in return. But when businesses manipulate customers or employees in the same ways, the latter get nothing additional out of that interaction (and can actually be harmed in the process).

Businesses aiming for transparency should drop magic’s tools and tactics and focus on the emotional outcomes it inspires. There are ways to provoke wonder, amusement, and curiosity for customers and employees without resorting to trickery or exploitation.


Find an ethical alternative to magic.


Consider some of the ethical alternatives to magic for your own unique audience below:
  • Encourage co-creation. Co-creation is inherently transparent, because customers or employees are along for every step. Can you tap into the same problem-solving desires that magic inspires but harness it for something more productive?
  • Create anticipation. Take a cue from Porsche's Track My Porsche, which proves that excitement can sit alongside process transparency. Is there a way to improve the lead-up to an event or product delivery?
  • Share inside jokes. Make your transparency efforts pointed toward your loyal customers, so that they feel like insiders. How might you create opportunities for customers to feel like they’re exclusively privy to the secret sauce?

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