Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Selling During Boycotts, Buy-cotts and Disinformation

Two jobs I really wouldn't want this week.  One, being the manager of the Mar-A-Lago Club and the other is being the sales manager at Goya, the privately held Latino food products company.  Mar-A-Lago for environmental reasons, and Goya because their CEO, Robert Unanue, has a hobby of sharing conspiracy theories and disinformation with all who will listen.  His disinformation campaigns have not only generated threats of violence against the owners, but have also inspired bean "boycotts" from Democrats, and "buy-cotts" from Republicans plus increased calls to fire him.  If you were the bean sales manager at Goya, how would you possibly forecast demand in this chaotic environment?

Last week I published an article titled Mixing Business and Politics Requires a Strategy.  In the article I posited that companies should have a strategy and carefully consider their purpose, brand, reputation, board, workforce and market before deciding to possibly share disinformation and disputed conspiracies.  Businesses should also decide if they want their executives speaking on controversial topics without board approval.  It's a quick way to chaos without a plan.

In the case of Goya, the board ordered their CEO to stop talking about two specific items - conspiracies and the company!  How can you act as CEO if you are not allowed to speak for it?  The reason for all this chaos was his advocacy of conspiracy theories and disinformation.

Also this week the CEO of MyPillows Mike Lindell, was banned from Twitter and retailers have stopped carrying his products.  The purveyor of fluffy pillows had championed disinformation and conspiracies in support of the former president.  In this case as with Goya, it has meant chaos for his business and his workforce, and now an uncertain future. 

Controversy, however, is not always bad for business as many social media influencers have demonstrated.  Many professional agitators have made millions by inspiring anger in their audience.  Anger has been found to open pocket books.  It is a great motivator and inspires people to buy a lot of products. 

The former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and now media pundit is being sued by the voting technology firm Dominion for $1.3 billion.  Dominion claims Giuliani made a great deal of money selling products and services through his media work by spreading disinformation about their company and products.  The more Giuliani promoted disinformation, the larger his audience grew.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts.

Now let's move down south.  Last week the Texas Supreme Court allowed three defamation cases filed by Sandy Hook survivors against conspiracy and disinformation purveyor, Alex Jones.  The law suites claim he promoted disinformation to sell merchandise to his conspiracy vulnerable audiences.  It might be easy to share disinformation and make money off it, but it's not always easy to keep it.

In all of these cases, the choice to spread and promote disinformation impacted their businesses.  The problems now faced by these companies are not about the quality of products and services.  They aren't about pricing, customer experience or customer service.  They are about making a choice on what kinds of information or disinformation to promote.

Read more on the Future of Information, Truth and Influence here:
Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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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 25, 2021

The 21 People Who Control the World

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has appointed twenty members to his new "Oversight Board." This board decides what Facebook's 2.7 billion users can read, watch, listen to and share on the social media platform.  They also decide which world leaders are allowed on the platform and what they can say.  

One of the Oversight Board's most significant upcoming decisions is whether to allow former US President Donald Trump, who is currently being impeached and on trial for starting an insurrection, back on Facebook where he can share his views of the world with billions of people.

Given the power of social media to alter people's thinking and behaviors, organize agitation and incite insurrection, this is a lot of power to leave in twenty Facebook appointed people's hands.  Have you ever stopped to think about the implications of that power?  These board members were not elected by citizens, but rather appointed by one person, Mark Zuckerberg.

Citizens have spent decades and even centuries organizing, debating, designing, writing and amending constitutions, protecting liberties, developing regulations, laws, processes and policies to manage and operate their Nation State.  Then along comes Facebook, a for-profit-business, which now will be making the most basic decisions on what information the citizens of these Nation States can read and share, and which global leaders are allowed to address them. That places Mark Zuckerberg in the consequential position of information "Kingmaker" to the world.  Are you OK with that?  Do you trust Zuckerberg with the health of your democracy and the minds of your citizens?  

No serious observer of recent history can question social media's ability to influence people's thinking and behaviors.  In the hands of expert influencers and propagandists true information becomes fake, and fake information true.  Are we OK with leaving that kind of power and influence over our lives, citizens and Nation States in the hands of one Silicon Valley technology executive and the twenty Oversight Board members he appointed?

Information is critical as is the appropriate management of it.  What are your thoughts?

Read more on the Future of Information, Truth and Influence here:
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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Utility of Truth

I have the good fortune to meet with and interview many distinguished business and technology leaders in the normal course of my work.  One of the most common subjects of discussion is the increasing importance of data and data analytics.  Everyone needs data and an understanding of what it means to operate today.  Data is captured and analyzed to determine facts, and the facts are weighed and measured to derive the truth.  Without data, facts can’t be supported, truth can’t be determined and effective reasoning cannot be applied.
Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the first to see clearly that knowledge of science would have to come from repeated experiments done, not unproven ideas. He was also the first scientist that correlated mathematics and science.
Most people recognize the role of truth in reasoning.  Reasoning without truth is like programming without logic.  It doesn’t work.  Computers run on logic as does nearly the entire world as a result of digital transformation. Truth and logic allow others to replicate your processes by following the logic, testing it, and debugging any issues.  That is why it is so critical, in an advanced digital society, to respect and honor the value and utility of truth and logic.  Without truth scientific breakthroughs and processes can’t be delivered, digital systems and economies can’t operate, and governments cannot sustain the trust and cooperation of their citizens.

If a person rejects data, denigrates facts and devalues truths, then their ability to use logic and reasoning to make good decisions is severely limited as is their ability to lead.  In the absence of reasoning, superstitions, bias, false narratives and prejudices find room to grow.
Galileo was one of the first modern thinkers to clearly state that the laws of nature are mathematical.
When I ask business leaders to identify emerging technologies they feel will have the biggest impact on their business in the near future they most often list technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoT, automation, robotics, personalization, etc.  All of these emerging technologies and their potential value to society are fully dependent on data, data analytics, determining facts and the revealed truth, and then using truth within logic systems to build cool things like autonomous self-driving cars!

Given the absolute centrality of data, facts, truth and logic to our current and future quality of life and common good, it would seem we could all agree on their value and utility, but alas we seem to be experiencing a crisis in truth and reasoning.  Truth today, rather than being the highly valued output of a reasoned and logical process is increasingly being supplanted by unsupported opinions, superstitions, bias and emotions - that require no data, facts or revealed truth to support them.
People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe. ~ Andy Rooney
Rather than finding ways to utilize truth for the common good or at least to gain an economic advantage, some seem committed to destroying the utility of truth.  We see this demonstrated in the politicalization of news, data, facts, science, research, healthcare, education, etc.  It seems many forget that the quality of life before science, scientific processes and good engineering, wasn’t so great and often very short.

In this time of global pandemic, it is of the utmost importance that we all lean on data, scientific processes, analytics and truth derived from reason.  Covid-19 will ultimately be overcome with virology, epidemiology, physics and behavior. To reject science, scientific thinking, accumulated knowledge and experience in favor of superstitions and gut feelings today is to reject the very foundations of our civilization.
Don't prejudice my opinions with your facts. 
When significant portions of our population harbor a distrust for truth, and the trusted and reasoned processes for determining it - we are in serious crisis.  Our ability to compete globally is largely determined by our ability to innovate based on sound science and engineering principals.  Truth, and the benefits realized by having a proven and logical system to derive it, are essential to our society's common good and future.

Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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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.

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 more on the Future of Information, Truth and Influence 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, 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

    Revealing Mind Manipulation Techniques

    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 on January 6, 2021 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.

    Read more on the Future of Information, Truth and Influence 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.