Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t information supposed to be the lifeblood of modern business? And aren’t we supposed to be all about information – managing it, processing it, delivering it? So how come everybody else in the business world seems to spend so much of their time hiding information?

Salespeople hide information on prospects from the boss and other salespeople. They hide delays, bottom-line prices and quality problems from customers. Customers hide their real plans and priorities from sales guys and try to keep their business prospects and problems a secret too.

Product designers hide what they’re working on, how long it will take, whether anyone has a clue whether it can be built. (And you thought only programmers did that.)

Finance hides how much money will actually be available for departmental budgets. And every department hides how much it really needs – not just from finance, but also from other departments. Everybody hides miniature slush funds in line items that are as broad and vague as humanly possible.

Human resources hides as much as it can from applicants about real job requirements. And everybody else hides everything from HR.

Sound crazy? It’s not. These folks aren’t stupid or paranoid. They just don’t trust the people they’re hiding information from. Everybody has an agenda, and it’s probably not yours. Show your cards to the wrong people, and next thing you know, they’ve jacked up your quotas, shortened your schedules and raised the bar.

So the CEO doesn’t tell the CIO why the CFO won’t support the COO’s supply-chain pitch. Maybe you’re about to merge with a competitor. Maybe it’s all about to be outsourced. Or maybe the COO just plays golf better than the boss.

The department head won’t explain whether the faster PCs are really for better customer service or better Web browsing, or if that backward-compatibility requirement in the new application is really just so the untrainable half of the staff won’t have to be retrained.

And IT? Oh, we’re not in the information hiding game at all, right? We just hide deployment plans, known glitches, schedule slips, project statuses, personnel problems, product incompatibilities, network bottlenecks and exactly what part of the wish list won’t make it into that new system no matter how loud users scream.

We hide our data from users, our technical tricks from each other – and our career plans from everyone.

Hidden information, misinformation, disinformation – that’s the real lifeblood of modern business.

And that’s not about to change. Oh, maybe over decades, with fanatical and unwavering support from the chairman, the board of directors and the whole executive suite, there might be some headway against the culture of information hiding.

Yeah, sure.

That doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. After all, people have been hiding information for as long as there’s been information to hide – whether it’s Y2K status, who’s in on the plot to stab Caesar or where Og keeps his stash of mastodon steaks.

You can uncover the information you need.

Do your homework. Listen at the watercooler. Make friends. Cut deals. Swap secrets. Collect blackmail evidence.

Just don’t assume anyone will ever hand you the information you really need to make yourself, your systems and your users successful.

Now, quick – hide this before someone else sees it.

Hayes, a Computerworld (US) staff columnist, doesn