What Is Open Kimono?

Open kimono means to reveal what is being planned or to share important information freely. Similar to ''open the books'' or an "open door policy," opening the kimono means revealing the inner workings of a project or company to an outside party. The practice is also referred to as "opening (up) one's kimono."

Companies often keep internal projects a secret, especially if they feel it will create a competitive advantage. When companies partner together for synergy, divulging some of the interior workings of your business can build trust and create a deeper, more loyal relationship between the corporate leadership.

Understanding Open Kimono

The kimono is a traditional Japanese garment. There are conflicting etymologies for this phrase, but the one closest to its current business connotation is the idea of Japanese people loosening their kimonos to relax at home, much like loosening a tie. The term joined the business lexicon in the late 1980s during a period of increased global business interaction, most notably between Western and Japanese businesses.

"Open kimono" became most popular within the entire world of IT, especially in North America.

Special Considerations

With the rise of political correctness in modern culture, business jargon is one of the last places where controversial phrases are being used regularly. Why? Because business jargon is the language of intense financial competition, and such business buzzwords occasionally veer into racism, sexism, or (in the case of a current favorite "open kimono") a combination of the two.

The use of "open kimono" in a business context dates back to the 1970s but seems to be gaining fresh traction. The phrase came into common usage around 1998. New York Times reporter Stephen Greenhouse became one of the first to draw broad attention to the term when he noted that marketers at Microsoft (MSFT) had embraced it. At the time, he did caution that the use of open kimono may have originally indicated a slightly disrespectful attitude toward the Japanese businessmen who were snatching up American companies.

The phrase actually became popular within the entire world of IT, especially in North America. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, notably used the expression in 1979 during a visit to Xerox Parc. He reportedly said: “Look, I will let you invest a million dollars in Apple if you will sort of open the kimono on Xerox Parc.” This memorable expression and meeting apparently led to him discovering the mouse, and Apple subsequently launching the first commercial mouse. And the rest is history, as they say.

Key Takeaways

  • "Open kimono" means revealing the inner workings of a project or company to an outside party.
  • Many consider the term to be politically charged or politically incorrect.
  • The term joined the business lexicon in the late 1980s during a period of increased business interactions with Japanese-owned businesses.

The expression became such a well-worn word in the IT industry that it was even used by the fictional consultant Dogbert, in the Dilbert cartoon series. In a comic strip from the 16 June 2005, Dogbert says in a stream of buzzwords: “Don’t open the Kimono until you ping the change agent for a brain dump and drill down to your core competencies." The mention indicated to many that the expression had become a key element of overused business jargon.