Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Mixing Business and Politics Requires a Strategy

Business leaders today are trying to navigate a hyper-politicized environment that can ambush them at any moment.  Everything a business does and says is being scrutinized to reveal political positions to either support or oppose.  Whether intended or not, or true or not, claims made by pundits, politicians and loud social media influencers can instantly lead to market segmentation, swarming or cancel culture that can unexpectedly derail your business and sales targets.

Prudent business leaders will think through these issues and have a plan.  They will discuss the most likely sources of trouble and identify the most likely scenarios and their potential business impacts.  The goal of these exercises is to create a playbook on how best to respond not if, but when it happens.  When it does happen the speed at which it materializes can be shockingly fast.

Some businesses are content with selling to a subset of the market that closely identifies with a well understood political persona or political position, while others wish to maximize their market size and potential by maintaining an apolitical position.  In either case, it is better to have a plan and then stay out in front of issues.

In the past political preferences were often kept confidential and any marketing or position statement from a company could be tightly managed and controlled.  Today, however, in a world of “cancel culture” and swarming where just about everything can be considered a litmus test, it’s wise to prepare.  Leaders, employees and former employees all have a pulpit today and businesses cannot stop what is said. No longer can businesses reasonably believe they can fully control their own messages.

Let's now take a look at a few of the objects and brands that were politicized in 2020.  
The ubiquitous nature of social media and social media influencers has resulted in an environment where businesses are always just a tweet away from chaos.  Businesses must truly understand this reality.  As an example, this week widely read NYT's columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an article where he stated, "I’d like to see pressure on advertisers to withdraw from Fox News."  Similar pressures were also applied to Cumulus Media this week forcing their leadership to order program hosts to stop spreading falsehoods.

Let's now look at some examples of businesses that have found themselves in the middle of politics this last week: 
  • Twitter and Facebook have barred [politician] from their platforms.
  • Shopify, which provides online store software, closed two [politician]-associated stores. 
  • Forbes warned that any of its contributors hiring [politician's] press officials will be viewed as a “potential funnel of disinformation.”
  • Zendesk and Okta, which provide popular back-end business services, both said they’d stopped working with Parler on Sunday. 
  • Reddit banned a major group on its site for [politician] supporters.
  • SnapChat banned [politician] from their platform this week. 
  • TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media app banned some videos of [politician] speaking. 
  • YouTube suspended [politician's] channel
  • Deutsche Bank (DB) has decided to refrain from future business with the [politician].
  • Signature Bank said it had started closing [politicians] personal accounts.  The US bank also said it "will not do business in the future with any members of Congress who voted to disregard the Electoral College." Source: CNN
  • Amazon said on Monday that it was removing products promoting [Q].
  • Amazon also decided to boot Parler from its web servers and cloud services.
  • MyPillow was offering a discount code to its customers: “FightFor[politician].” Online shoppers who type in the phrase can receive lower prices on the company’s “premium” pillow, “classic” pillow and other products.
  • Stripe will stop processing payments for [politicians] campaign website.
  • The PGA has canceled plans to play its 2022 championship at [politician's] golf course.
  • Walmart's CEO Doug McMillon, as a leader in the business lobby, Business Roundtable, signed a letter critical of [politician] and his actions.
  • Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman made public statements critical of [politician].
  • Apple and Google have all booted the Parler app from their app stores, a social media platform friendly to [politician] supporters.
  • Instagram, which is owned by Facebook blocked [politician] from its platform.
  • YouTube, owned by Google, announced it will penalize accounts spreading misinformation from [politician].
  • Snapchat blocked [politician's account] indefinitely.
  • Airbnb cancels all reservations in the Washington DC area.
  • Marriott announced it would be halting donations to the GOP lawmakers objecting to certifying the presidential election.
  • Cumulus Media ordered their radio program hosts to stop spreading false information and accept the election, in order not to lose sponsors' business.
  • Hallmark asked for their money back.  "The recent actions of [politician] and [politician] do not reflect our company’s values,” and “requested [politicians] to return all HALLPAC campaign contributions.”
  • City of New York announced they had canceled agreements with the [politicians] organization.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the health care insurance group announced a pause on giving from its PAC to Republicans who had voted against certification.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce condemned [politician's] conduct and said on Tuesday that lawmakers who backed his efforts to discredit the election would no longer receive the organization’s financial backing.
  • Dow Chemical announced it was “immediately suspending all corporate and employee political action committee (PAC) contributions to any member of Congress who voted to object to the certification of the presidential election.” ~ yahoo!Finance
  • Morgan Stanley announced they would stop giving money to members of Congress who objected to certifying the election.
  • The list continues and includes Walmart, American Express, AT&T, Best Buy, Cisco Systems, Commerce Bank, Comcast, General Electric, Intel and MasterCard.
All of these businesses and organizations are likely to be impacted by these public statements and announced policies.  The internet has ears and remembers.  Some may be negatively impacted, but others may see a positive impact from their statements and policies.  Some of these organizations reversed policies, some announced new policies, while others simply reiterated existing policies.

Even though many business leaders want to avoid politics, they also recognize that the rule of law is necessary to operate a business and support investments.  When rules, laws, regulations, practices and norms are disrupted there is a risk to businesses.  This risk may force them to act.  Ronnie Chatterji, a business professor at Duke University, was quoted by the Washington Post this week, as saying “The rule of law that ensures peaceful transitions of power - also makes business possible."   https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/01/08/trump-policies-corporate-america/
    Sometimes no matter how hard a business tries to avoid politics, their hand is forced as voting technology company, Dominion found out. "Dominion said its reputation and resale value have been deeply damaged by a “viral disinformation campaign."  Dominion sues [politician] lawyer Sidney Powell, seeking more than $1.3 billion.
    Are you willing to take political positions with your business?  Will supporting or opposing a particular politicized issue help or hinder your business?  Is your target market aligned with a political position?  Does it align with your organization’s?  How does your leadership team and employees feel about it?  Are they both in agreement?  Is it possible to remain apolitical on an issue?

    Social media and social networks are now permanent fixtures in our society, as such, it appears this challenge will be here for the foreseeable future.  Choosing how to position your business in a politicized environment has now become both a reality and a priority.

    Read related articles:
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    Kevin Benedict
    Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
    View my profile on LinkedIn
    Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
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    ***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

    Monday, January 11, 2021

    Part 2 of My Interview with Mark Bramwell the CIO at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford

    This is part 2 of my in-depth interview with Mark Bramwell the CIO at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.  We leave behind our list of prepared questions and take a deep dive into the future of universities and higher education.  For anyone interested in education this is a fascinating discussion.

     

    Watch Part 1 of this interview with Mark Bramwell here.
    ************************************************************************
    Kevin Benedict
    Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
    View my profile on LinkedIn
    Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
    Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

    ***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

    Friday, January 08, 2021

    We Can Be Silent No More - Influencer Strategies and Responsibilities

    In Washington DC, Silicon Valley, Russia, China, New York, Iran and thousands of other locations around the world influencers are developing and implementing strategies that exploit human vulnerabilities to sell products and amass power.  Many of us so called "influencers" and/or "marketers" have studied for years and learned how we can utilize current social and collaborative technologies and databases of followers/contacts/connections to influence people.  We have developed content that appeals to our targeted audiences and collected followers.  Although these technologies and efforts in most cases have been used to distribute useful knowledge and advice, they can also be used for nefarious manipulation. 

    For the past month I have been working on a project about the future of information, truth and influence.  The violence and insurrection of the past week in Washington DC has made me regret I had not started this project and shared it years ago.  I believe it is our responsibility, as influencers, to be transparent and share how social and collaboration technologies, databases and networks all work together to impact the way people think.  As recent events have demonstrated, there can be extreme power with real-world impact derived from online influence.  We as influencers have a responsibility to help our readers become more critical thinkers that understand how online influence and mind manipulation happens so all of us can be more alert and critical consumers of online content - and better citizens and more educated participants in our democracy. 

    Here are some introductory talking points:
    1. Current and future information related arguments are and will be more dangerous than in the past because of their direct, personalized influence on vast numbers of targeted individuals, businesses, communities, societies, governments and economics.
    2. Targeted influence campaigns over time can change people's perception of reality and can quickly turn into mob, swarm and cancel culture behaviors.
    3. The combination of in-depth individual profiles (consumer/voter data) and targeted social media messaging strategies means external parties can create a personalized "messaging bubble" around each of us that will over time influence how we think and view the world.
    4. Organizations are increasingly using society’s networks to directly attack their opponents' leaders, decision-makers and members in order to destroy their unity, credibility, fortitude, perseverance, confidence and willingness to serve. 
    5. There are increasingly well funded and highly effective influence operations being implemented to change target audiences’ reality based on their emotional vulnerabilities and current perceptions of truth.
    6. The velocity of information and disinformation today is overwhelming gatekeepers, fact checkers and audiences everywhere, and those with nefarious intent understand this and are skilled at introducing misinformation into societies' conversations.
    7. Influencers and information manipulators today have thousands of ways to distribute ideas, and the speed advantage over traditional gatekeepers to get these ideas (true or false) quickly and widely disseminated before they can be fact checked and censored.
    8. The strategic influence advantage goes to the side that fields the most credible and compelling messages for a particular group’s reality and emotional vulnerability.
    9. Information is being used both defensively, offensively to change the way people think.
    10. Those who control what goes into an audiences' brain  – controls them and the power they represent.
    11. Provocative information (both real and fake) fund media and social media’s business models.  It is in their financial interest to amplify engagement, agitation and anger to increase ad revenue, readership and influence.
    This is just a start.  Please recognize how this works.  Understand these strategies are funding the business models of social networks.   Organizations that are intent on changing the way people think are willing to invest billions to accomplish this.

    All of us connected humans are subjected to a daily bombardment of intentional internet-based mind manipulation, including our customers, prospects, middle schoolers, consumers, elderly, depressed, discontent, agitated, vulnerable, ignorant and criminal.  In a recent study it was found those age 65 and older shared over six times more fake news articles than did the youngest user groups in the study.  This older group simply doesn't seem to understand that influence campaigns are being deployed to impact their thinking, and that they are being unwitting participants in it.  Please make sure you are not one of these.

    If you find yourself agitated, angry or motivated to share an opinion or article with others on social media, first ask yourself where did this information originate from, who are the sponsors of it, and what are their motivations for stirring you up?  Who benefits from this agitation?  What are the outcomes the original authors are hoping for?

    Social media companies have recently tried to tap down misinformation, however, research indicates that despite these efforts the viral nature of false news continues to take advantage of the algorithms that gin up what people see on those platforms. The [social media] algorithms often reward outrage over accuracy and telling people what they want to hear, or what gets them angry can easily overwhelm the truth. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/22/technology/georgia-senate-runoff-misinformation.html?referringSource=articleShare.

    All people and organizations today must realize they are immersed in an information and misinformation battlefield and critical thinking and analysis are absolutely required.  Business leaders are starting to recognize this as a survey conducted by The Leadership IQ, consisting of 3,272 business leaders reveals:
    • 59% are concerned about ‘fake news’ in the workplace 
    • 24% rising to the level of ‘very concerned’ 
    • 64% are concerned about ‘alternative facts’ in the workplace 
    • 27% rising to the level of ‘very concerned’
    • 58% believe that nowadays it is easier for people to get away with lying
    Misinformation can not only divide a country, but it can also kill hundreds of thousands of people as our current experience with the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates.  Here is how it works, "Fake news operates by ‘masking healthy behaviors and promoting erroneous practices that increase the spread of the virus and ultimately result in poor physical and mental health outcomes’ by limiting the dissemination of ‘clear, accurate, and timely transmission of information from trusted sources and by compromising short-term containment efforts and longer-term recovery efforts."  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11077-020-09405-z

    Influence campaigns and strategies are so recognizable today many even have their own names.  "The Russian model, rests on the principle that people get convinced when they hear the same message many times from a variety of sources, no matter how biased…If you make a claim that is truly outrageous, it will attract attention and eyeballs, spread far and wide, and ensure that people hear it repeatedly — and over time begin to believe it. 

    As I wrap up this article, let me leave you with the basics of a nefarious mind manipulation or influence strategy in the hopes this will help you recognize and understand what is happening when you see it in the future.  People seeking to manipulate others by giving them an "alternative information ecosystem" all seem to follow a similar playbook:
    1. Establish a goal.  What thoughts, mental frameworks and opinions are you wanting to promote or change in your audience?
    2. Identify target audiences.
    3. Understand their emotional vulnerabilities.
    4. Understand the demographic groups most vulnerable to mind manipulation are the lower-middle class, working poor, elderly and blacks. These groups are driven by the insecurity of their place in society and in the economy. They’re easiest to influence by sharing stories that others are out to trick them and the world is out to get them. 
    5. Use high numbers of coordinated communication channels, social networks and messages to distribute and echo messages.
    6. Disseminate truths, partial truths or outright fictions to support your views.  Understand that consistency or credibility is less important than the volume of messages.
    7. Call all dissenting sources of information, truth and influence fake and villainize any and all critics.
    8. Use frequently repeated narratives that support your audiences existing views to harden them.
    9. Focus messaging on improving the “status” of your audience over other groups.
    10. Provide a spokesman willing to say the impolite things others only think.
    11. Find, list and promote your target audiences' grievances.
    12. Blame elites and specific demographic segments for all grievances.
    13. Sow distrust in existing institutions, norms and leaders. 
    14. Offer simplistic solutions to grievances.
    15. Empower your target audiences with "secret" information and conspiracies that make them feel special and valued.
    16. Give them a "holy" purpose and mission greater than themselves to urgently promote and defend.
    17. It's helpful to focus attention on a one of a kind, visionary leader that has easy answers to complex problems, and promote him/her as the only one capable of solving the big pressing problems of your target audience.
    These, of course, are necessarily incomplete, but hopefully after reading this list you will be more alert to the impact of the content and information you are consuming.

    ************************************************************************
    Kevin Benedict
    Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
    View my profile on LinkedIn
    Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
    Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

    ***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2020

    Reimagining the Future of Higher Education with Wiley Expert Renee Altier

    A couple of weeks back I was able to sit down and record this fascinating discussion with higher education expert Renee Altier, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Business Education and Careers at Wiley. We took a deep dive into what the university of tomorrow will look like. A great deal about higher education is going to change! We talked about new innovations in higher education, university campuses, personalized education and ensuring equal access to the technology infrastructures that make it all possible plus much more. I hope you learn as much as I did!

    Watch more interviews on the future of higher education here.

    ************************************************************************
    Kevin Benedict
    Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
    View my profile on LinkedIn
    Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
    Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

    ***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

    Monday, December 14, 2020

    The University of Tommorrow with Expert Susan McCahan, Vice Provost of Innovations for Undergraduate Education and Academic Programs at the University of Toronto

    Recently I had the great privilege of interviewing Susan McCahan, the Vice Provost, of Innovations for Undergraduate Education and Academic Programs at the University of Toronto. In our discussion we took a dive deep into the pandemic experience, digital transformation, and what the university of tomorrow may look like. We covered a lot of ground and I hope you will find it enlightening.



    Watch more interviews on the future of higher education here.

    ************************************************************************
    Kevin Benedict
    Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
    View my profile on LinkedIn
    Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
    Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

    ***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

    Wednesday, December 09, 2020

    University of Tomorrow - and the Role of Technology with Cornell Tech Expert Greg Morrisett

    In this series, I interview experts on the future of higher education.  We take a dive deep into the pandemic experience, digital transformation, the future of university campuses and what the university of tomorrow may look like.  In this episode, I interview Greg Morrisett, Dean and Vice Provost at Cornell Tech.  


    Watch more interviews on the future of higher education here.

    ************************************************************************
    Kevin Benedict
    Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
    View my profile on LinkedIn
    Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
    Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

    ***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

    The University of Tomorrow - and the Role of Technology with Expert Mark Bramwell

    In this series, I interview experts on what the future of higher education might look like.  We take a dive deep into the pandemic experience, digital transformation and how universities are likely to change as a result.  My guest in this episode is Mark Bramwell, CIO, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.  Mark has recently been voted one of the top CIO's in the UK.   

    Watch other interviews with experts in higher education here.

    ************************************************************************
    Kevin Benedict
    Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
    View my profile on LinkedIn
    Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
    Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

    ***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2020

    Unity and Leadership

    Colonel John Boyd
    This afternoon while working on a project about the future of information, I came across some books I have in my library from the insightful military strategist USAF Colonel John Boyd.  He spent decades studying military strategies and learning how to unify people, and how to unhinge or divide them.  Here is his summary on how to unify people

    Identify and find ways to overcome or eliminate blemishes, flaws, or contradictions that generate mistrust and discord so these negative qualities neither alienate nor set us against one another, because these will destroy internal harmony, paralyze and make it difficult to cope with an uncertain, ever-changing world at large.

    Instead we must emphasize our cultural traditions, previous experiences, and unfolding events that build-up harmony and trust, thereby create those implicit bonds that permit us as individuals and as a society to shape as well as adapt to the course of events in the world.

    We as individuals must look for qualities in our leaders that will create unity and purpose so we can face the chaotic world together.

    ************************************************************************
    Kevin Benedict
    Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
    View my profile on LinkedIn
    Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
    Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

    ***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.

    Monday, November 23, 2020

    Post-Pandemic University Experiences

    Last month I interviewed professors, deans, provosts and futurist on the future of higher education, and the university of tomorrow. All of them believe that the Covid-19 global pandemic will change universities forever.  The move to virtual learning environments has forced universities to adapt and learn new ways of operating.  It has also emphasized how much both students and parents crave an in-person university experience.  Both want a thriving social environment involving regular interactions between students, professors and classmates on a university campus in a park like setting with culture, sporting events, art, music, entertainment, class projects, clubs and student governments.  The pandemic, of course, has caused major interruptions to these experiences in 2020, and students are desperate for there to be a return to normalcy, but as we have all come to realize there is a very new and different normal ahead of us. 

    Parents have long carried big expectations when they send their kids off to the university.  They want universities to help them transform their obstinate teenagers into cultured, skilled, self-sufficient, educated and responsible adults.  Students, as one might imagine, have some of the same goals, but prioritize them differently.  They are seeking friendships and transformative educational and social experiences.  It is during these experiences that many lifelong relationships and professional networks are formed.  In addition to classroom experiences, a wealth of valuable knowledge and experiences are gained from being coached, mentored and challenged in classrooms and during extracurricular activities by adults and classmates that don't carry the title of parent.

    Monday, November 09, 2020

    The Future of Higher Education, a European Perspective with Dr. David Kalisz

    While preparing for another pandemic induced lockdown, Dr. David Kalisz, Associate Professor at the Paris School of Business, shares his pandemic experiences with us, and his views into the future of higher education, teaching, competition, and possible future scenarios for universities.


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    Kevin Benedict
    Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
    View my profile on LinkedIn
    Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
    Join the Linkedin Group Digital Intelligence

    ***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.