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Post truth, alternative facts, fake news: implications for businesses

Geary Sikich looks at the rise of post truth, alternative facts and fake news; considers the impact on organizations; and looks at how business continuity planners can rise to meet the challenge.

Introduction

If you want senior management to pay attention give them something that challenges their focus - and understand that their focus is not on how many computers you have or RTO, RPO statistics.  It is on business survivability: will we be in business tomorrow given the issues that we face today.

Some of the most recent issues facing organizations are post truth; alternative facts; and fake news. Some definitions will help to form the basis for why these terms are may create a crisis for leadership today:

Post truth: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:

‘In this era of post-truth politics, it's easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire.’

‘Some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age.’

Alternative facts: is a term in law to describe inconsistent sets of facts with plausible evidence to support both alternatives. In some jurisdictions, there are rules governing how a party can state two versions of the facts, such as an absence of the person's knowledge on which one of the alternatives is true.

Fake news: (also referred to as hoax news) websites deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news; often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.  Unlike news satire, fake news websites seek to mislead rather than entertain readers for financial, political, or other gain.  Such sites have promoted political falsehoods in Germany, Indonesia and the Philippines, Sweden, Myanmar, and the United States.  Many sites originate, or are promoted, from Russia, Macedonia, Romania and the USA.

The impact of these forces can create upheaval in an organization, leading to reactive response and diversion of attention instead of focusing on achieving the goals and objectives of the organization.

My colleague Horst Simon writes in a recent LinkedIn post, entitled: ‘Clarity from Chaos: Money, Change & Risk’ published 19 January 2017:

“Regulations, Cyber Crime, ‘The drop in the oil price’ and Global Climate Change—paranoia in a world that is still just a spinning ball with an increasing population; a place where businesses exist today and are gone or ‘acquired’ by tomorrow evening. This is the world of disruption in which risk managers must advise and support business managers to survive and build competitive advantage over peers and over future competitors that do not even exist in the marketplace today. Getting clarity from chaos is the key to success in this new world.”

How does one get ‘clarity’ when we are faced with post truths, alternative facts, fake news?  How can we assess the risks created by these three emergent phenomena?  Is this an area for leadership focus?  Is this a threat that business continuity plans should consider?  How does one ensure that the organization is getting valid information and that it can respond to post-truths, alternative facts and fake news?

Leadership challenge

How does one lead in times of uncertainty? A recent article in RHR International Executive Insight newsletter states:

“In uncertain times, it is essential to bridge the conceptual difference between ‘leading’ and ‘managing’.  Organizations need leaders to show the way forward and instill a sense of energy and inspiration.”

The article cites four key concepts for leading people during times of uncertainty: inform, connect, guide and unite.

When faced with the challenge of social media and mainstream media, spewing forth post-truths, alternative facts and fake news, how does one create vetted information that serves to inform, connect, guide and unite?  Consider that leaders are often focused on achieving goals and objectives that may be short term in nature and carry with them tremendous pressures to attain them.  The pressure to produce results can often override close scrutiny of the deluge of information that is produced by social media and mainstream media.  This creates stress; and stress causes people to react in unanticipated ways, often not realizing the consequences of their actions.  This can lead to a crisis situation that has the potential to mushroom into negative consequences for the organization.

It is becoming clear that senior management has to pay close attention to what is being presented in the news, social media, etc.  There is a lot at stake; an organization’s reputation, potential loss of revenue, customers, share price, etc.  Senior management needs to incorporate an intelligence function into the strategy of the organization. An intelligence function can be defined as an information gathering, analysis and vetting function.  Many organizations have ‘competitive intelligence’ functions that assess competitor information and seek leverage for the organization’s products or services.  This function needs to be expanded in focus to include a broader assessment of information that has potential to impact (either positively or negatively) the organization and its ‘value chain’ (customers, suppliers, vendors, etc.).

A new challenge for planners

How do business continuity planners rise to meet the challenge?

Business continuity planners need to understand the ‘information to intelligence’ cycle and to apply this to business continuity planning (this includes crisis management, contingency planning, emergency preparedness planning, crisis communications planning, etc.).  As depicted in figure one, entitled: ‘Information to Intelligence Cycle’ the process of turning information into actionable intelligence is critical to decision making.

Planners perform risk assessments, business impact assessments/analysis, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and other types of information gathering and analysis.  Unfortunately, most of these efforts are hampered by the time it takes to organize, conduct, analyze and report.  Generally, by the time the assessment goes to press (report), the information contained therein is dated at best and useless at worst.

An essential element of continuity should be the ability to provide critical intelligence from the most current available information.  This requires ‘Active Analysis’ a term that I created to describe the process of constantly remaking the mosaic that we create as we conduct analysis and develop plans.

The ability to effectively respond to and manage the consequences of an event in a timely manner is essential to ensure an organization's survivability in today’s fast paced business environment.  With the emergence of new threats, such as post-truth, alternative facts, fake news, cybersecurity, terrorism, bio-terrorism; and the increasing exposure of organizations to traditional threats such as, fraud, systems failure, fire, explosions, spills, natural disasters, etc. an integrated approach to information capture and analysis is essential.  The integrated approach, as presented in my article, ‘FutureProofing the Process of Active Analysis’ originally published in 2001 and rewritten in 2015 is based on the concept of graceful degradation and agile restoration.  Graceful degradation refers to the ability of an organization to identify the event, classify it into a level of severity, determine its consequences, establish minimal stable functionality, devolve to the most robust less functional configuration available and to begin to direct initial efforts for rapid restoration of services in a timely fashion.

Active Analysis is based on 17 analysis elements that can be structured on three levels; strategic, operational and tactical.  Each level of analysis becomes supportive of the next level, either drilling down (from strategic to tactical) or escalating up (tactical to strategic).

The traditional roles of the planner, the risk manager, the disaster recovery specialist, etc. are becoming obsolete.  These roles need to evolve with the times in order to continue to provide value.  However, this evolution need not be painful; expansion of the traditional roles into a merged, coordinated team that is focused on information sharing, joint analysis and integrated planning to support the organization’s strategic goals and objectives can be accomplished.

Concluding thoughts

What does the future look like?  A Chinese proverb states that ‘Opportunity is always present in the midst of crisis’.  Every crisis carries two elements, danger and opportunity.  No matter the difficulty of the circumstances, no matter how dangerous the situation… at the heart of each crisis lies a tremendous opportunity.  Great blessings lie ahead for the one who knows the secret of finding the opportunity within each crisis.

Our world is full of consequences; consequences to ourselves and to the people and other entities around us. Our decisions need to be made with the knowledge that the information available has been vetted and verified. Recognize that all decisions carry with them flaws due to our inability to know everything.  This is especially true in a world with an ever growing volume of half-truths, post truths, alternative facts and fake news.  Our focus should be on how to minimize the effect of bad information on our flawed decisions.  If we change our thought processes from chasing symptoms and ignoring consequences to recognizing the limitations of decision making under uncertainty we may find that the decisions we are making have more upside than downside.

The author

Geary Sikich, management advisor, author and business lecturer.

Geary Sikich is a seasoned risk management professional who advises private and public sector executives to develop risk buffering strategies to protect their asset base.  With a M.Ed. in Counseling and Guidance, Geary's focus is human capital: what people think, who they are, what they need and how they communicate. With over 25 years in management consulting as a trusted advisor, crisis manager, senior executive and educator, Geary brings unprecedented value to clients worldwide.

Geary is well-versed in contingency planning, risk management, human resource development, war gaming, as well as competitive intelligence, issues analysis, global strategy and identification of transparent vulnerabilities.  Geary has developed more than 4,000 plans and conducted over 4,500 simulations from tabletops to full scale integrated exercises.  Geary began his career as an officer in the US Army after completing his BS in Criminology.  As a thought leader, Geary leverages his skills in client attraction and the tools of LinkedIn, social media and publishing to help executives in decision analysis, strategy development and risk buffering.  A well-known author, his books and articles are readily available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the Internet.

Contact G.Sikich@att.net or gsikich@logicalmanagement.com

References

  • Apgar, David, Risk Intelligence – Learning to Manage What We Don’t Know, Harvard Business School Press, 2006.
  • Good Morning America, LISSETTE RODRIGUEZ, Good Morning America
  • Kami, Michael J., Trigger Points: how to make decisions three times faster, 1988, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-033219-3
  • Marks, Norman, Time for a leap change in risk management guidance, November 5, 2016
  • RHR International Executive Insight newsletter, Leadership in Time of Uncertainty, January 2017
  • Sikich, Geary W., Graceful Degradation and Agile Restoration Synopsis, Disaster Resource Guide, 2002
  • Sikich, Geary W., Integrated Business Continuity: Maintaining Resilience in Times of Uncertainty, PennWell Publishing, 2003
  • Sikich, Geary W., Risk and Compliance: Are you driving the car while looking in the rearview mirror? 2013
  • Sikich, Geary W., Transparent Vulnerabilities How we overlook the obvious, because it is too clear that it is there 2008
  • Sikich, Geary W., FutureProofing: The Process of Active Analysis 2011, 2015
  • Sikich, Geary W., Risk and the Limitations of Knowledge 2014
  • Simon, Horst, Clarity from Chaos: Money, Change & Risk published 19 January 2017, LinkedIn
  • Tainter, Joseph, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge University Press (March 30, 1990), ISBN-10: 052138673X, ISBN-13: 978-0521386739
  • Taleb, Nicholas Nassim, Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder, 2012, Random House – ISBN 978-1-4000-6782-4
  • Vogel, David, The Market for Virtue – The Potential and Limits on Corporate Social Responsibility, Washington (2005)
  • World Economic Forum, Global Risks 2015, 10th edition and 2016 11th edition.


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