5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is the first in a Series exploring 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership. It is being published in recognition of IoT Day on April 9th.

Introducing 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership

The Internet of Things (IoT) can enhance people’s lives in many new ways, and because of its enormous scale, it will alter our global economy and the way we do business. Unlike the software design projects of the past, working in the IoT takes us into completely uncharted ethical territory. While we are in the process of trying to understand the global challenges and opportunities that the IoT represents, we are using varying definitions of “ethics” and see our responsibilities in ways that vary from simply following laws to harnessing the power of the IoT to serve humanity and the public good.  

The IoT is Connected, Intelligent and Entering Unknown Territory

“A world where everything is connected, and everything is intelligent—that’s where IoT is heading.” Life, the Universe, and The Internet of Things, UMass Amherst, Electrical and Computer Engineering

“The IoT is advancing exponentially. Some even say we’re in the “knee of the curve,” which is the point where advancement happens so rapidly that its potential uses are beyond the reach of speculation.” Atlantic BT, 3 Threats and 3 Benefits of the Internet of Things

While it would be convenient to consider only the financial and legal implications of the IoT, that would not be a sufficient response, since the Iot will potentially directly impact every man, woman and child on the planet. It is an ecosystem-level challenge, and ecosystem-level problems require ecosystem-level thinking and solutions.

Whether serving the public good will become an achievable outcome of the IoT or not depends on the future we imagine and create. Will the IoT just extend the domain where greed and profit dominate, or will it become a space for outstanding ethical innovation and ethical brand value creation? I believe that the latter is possible if responsible actors in the IoT space recognize and seize the opportunity to use their collective design power to imagine and create a better, more connected world.

This paper makes the case for thinking holistically about the ethics of the IoT in ways that will help us find workable solutions for a complex, evolving globally-connected ecosystem of people and things. It proposes a spectrum of 5 important dimensions of the Ethics of IoT that are advocated by leaders in the field and cannot be ignored. Rather than looking at one area of ethical concern at a time, this paper proposes that we think about ethics in a multidimensional way to get a broader view. It is hoped that this holistic definition of the Ethics of IoT will help us collaborate on the various dimensions of responsibility using common terminology, reducing the chances that differences in our global interpretation of ethical action will derail our progress.

The five ethical dimensions explored in this paper are adapted from the 7-dimensional model in my book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.  “Ethics” as applied to The IoT will be broadly defined as: ethical design; legal compliance; protecting human life, rights, quality of life and privacy; being an ethical contributor to the broader IoT Ecosystem; and supporting the public good (designing for safety, well-being and a better life for future generations). We” as applied here will be defined as responsible actors in the IoT space who want to create a better future through ethical design and implementation. A multidimensional approach to the Ethics of IoT is urgently needed if we are to generate a best-case scenario – the infinite possibilities of the IoT combined with high level ethical awareness, concern and action, resulting in a highly functioning system with a positive impact.

Balancing the Promise and the Peril of the IoT
 
“Understanding how to balance the promise of IoT connected devices with potential security challenges will continue to be a mega-trend in the years to come.” Christy Pettey, The IoT Effect: Opportunities and Challenges, Gartner

Improving Ethical Foresight

The power of the IoT lies in the ability to create new technologies that improve people’s lives. Because the IoT is globally connected and based on human-enabled interface, creating those new technologies must be approached thoughtfully. While considering the market potential and creating innovative products, we must also carefully consider the ethical implications.

The IoT Is Vulnerable to Misuse

“I like to think of it as putting the internet where it doesn’t normally belong.”  Emily Gorcenski, The Ethics of the Internet of Things, JSConf EU

 “(A bill was) proposed last February to address security issues with IoT-connected cars. One of the senators who drafted the bill, Sen. Ed Markey stated, “We need the electronic equivalent of seat belts and airbags to keep drivers and their information safe in the 21st century.” Kate Smith, All About Circuits, IoT Security: Risks and Realities

“Embedded devices are often designed to be plugged in and forgotten after a very basic setup process…As a result, any compromise or infection of such devices may go unnoticed by the owner and this presents a unique lure for the remote attackers.”  Symantec, IoT devices being increasingly used for DDoS attacks

Francine Berman (a computer-science professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and longtime expert on computer infrastructure) asks the burning ethical questions about the Internet of Things, “Who’s responsible and who’s accountable, what does it mean to be ethical, and what does it mean to promote the public good? (Kaveh Waddell, The Internet of Things Needs a Code of Ethics, The Atlantic)” Part of the difficulty in answering these questions lies in the complexity of the IoT. It is ever-evolving and expanding, its growth driven by innovators and designers who are not all “working together” in any formal way.

Rob van Kranenburg, founder of the IoT Council, points out that the “IoT is also questioning the nature of security, privacy and safety, and the definition of these terms becomes plural: privacies, securities, safeties as the situation is no longer ported to only individual human identities but to communities of capabilities and resources” and requires defining “what is ‘ethical’ related to those communities.”

We know that the financial potential of the IoT is immense. The challenge is learning how to harness that potential by understanding the needs and expectations of consumers; ensuring that we are designing and developing responsible products that improve people’s lives; and using ethical foresight to anticipate and reduce the risk of negative outcomes. As part of every action and decision, we must anticipate the future doors we may be opening to an ethical pandora’s box.

This is Part 1 of a paper that is being shared as a weekly blog series. Part 2 will explore the 2nd of 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership.

Contributors:

Gerald Santucci and Rob van Kranenburg served as reviewers and contributed substantial feedback that helped shape this paper’s coherence and usefulness.

About the Author:

Linda Fisher Thornton is an author and leader in the field of ethical thinking and leadership. She helps executives, leaders and groups learn how to lead using the 7-dimensional model described in her book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership. Linda is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Applied Ethics and Global Leadership for the University of Richmond SPCS. Her website is www.LeadinginContext.com.

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Leading With Values During the Pandemic

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As we all grapple with the pandemic, I am grateful to see so many businesses sharing resources and ideas freely and finding a way to do some good for others. Our current challenges can only be managed with everyone pulling together to make good choices.

Today I’m sharing three key values that should drive our decision making at this time when everything we carefully planned has been turned upside down.

Well Being is Paramount

During a pandemic, leaders must put the well-being of employees, customers and other stakeholders ahead of profits and administrative routines. While offering paid sick leave to part time employees may be an unplanned cost, allowing part time workers to take paid sick leave would increase the chances that they will stay home when sick.

Keeping Values at the Center of Our Decision Making

Leaders have an obligation to make decisions that respond to the human need employees have for protecting themselves and caring for children, spouses, parents and other loved ones.

Three ethical values that are particularly important for leaders to demonstrate during a pandemic are Do No Harm, Demonstrate Care and Communicate Transparently.

Do No Harm
• Act before anyone in the organization becomes infected and work toward the goal of no one becoming infected
• Minimize employee travel, take in-person gatherings online and take other precautions
• Look for ways to make it likely that sick employees will be able to stay home and not infect others

Demonstrate Care
• Help people learn how to prepare themselves.
• Adapt policies to support people who are quarantined or sick or caring for loved ones
• Maintain a sense of community to support each other during the crisis

Communicate Transparently
• Keep people informed about changes and why they are being made and communicate new procedures
• Include how the changes will benefit them
• Help people understand what they need to do

Leaders and organizations who apply all of these values during a crisis demonstrate that they care about their employees and customers. Knowing that precautions are being taken and that they will be kept informed will help employees manage their fear and move forward with what they need to do. To get the tactics right, leaders will need to keep values central to their decision making and demonstrate a high level of flexibility and concern for others.

See Linda Fisher Thornton’s advice for HR Managers in the April Issue of Virginia Business.

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Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is Part 2 in a Leading in Context blog series sharing information on how to spot misinformation and false narratives. In case you missed it, Part 1 explored the concepts of truth and narrative. In Part 2, we’ll explore how data relates to the truth.

How Does Data Inform the Truth?

“If there is no longer an objective truth to be uncovered in our data or if we are no longer interested in listening to the voice of data that may tell us uncomfortable truths, what is the point of even turning to data?”

Kalev leetaru, Is There Such a Thing as Objective Truth in Data or is it all in the Eye of the Beholder?, Forbes

Data, taken in pieces or without context, can be presented as “truth” but the fragmented picture you will see is only informative in the context of the greater whole. In that sense, data is just as easily used for misinformation and false narrative as it is to give you a clear picture of the truth.

“This kind of viral half-truth is part of the fabric of today’s internet, and the kind of anger it inspired has been turned into a dangerous commodity… (used) by scammers raising money online, and by authoritarian governments to spread hate and fear.”

Adi Robertson, How to Fight Lies, Tricks and Chaos Online, The Verge

“Also, Tromble says, the “sticky thing” about someone’s perceptions—be they true or false—usually involves some ’emotional contact.’ If false claims come wrapped in exciting or agitating contexts, and the subsequent fact checks arrive in sober, academic language, the false claims are ‘stickier.’”

Charles Babington, The Disinformation Age, GW Magazine

Emotional awareness is an important part of evaluating whether or not something is true. We can consider whether the content we’re seeing is specifically designed to activate a deep emotional response and think about why that may be the case. A person wanting to discover objective truth will need to dig in to evaluate the motives and hidden agendas of information sources. That leads me to the second way to spot misinformation and false narrative.

How can you spot a source of misinformation and false narrative?

Sources of misinformation and false narrative will often give you an emotionally-charged and opportunistic spin on a situation and call it the truth. People who question it may be attacked to deflect attention from a hidden motive.

A misinformation provider wants you NOT to question its motives as it shares a piece of information that is not giving you the whole truth. It relies on you wanting to believe that it is true so much that you will not question it.

Misinformation and false narrative rely on raw intimidation power (and not truth power). Look for truth power that stands on its own merits and doesn’t need to attack to deflect attention.

Watch for Part 3, Coming Soon!

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Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Sifting through mountains of information, people who want to do the right thing are finding it harder than ever to find the truth. We find ourselves dealing with the challenge of too much information and too little insight. This timely series will explore truth and misinformation. In each post, I will share a different way to spot misinformation and false narratives.

In Part 1, we’ll explore the concepts of truth and narrative.

What is Truth?

Much of what is referred to as truth, is really the narrative of a person or group trying to achieve a particular outcome. This motivated narrative may be leading people to a certain interpretation of the facts while calling it “the truth.”

The objective truth is elusive. To find a more objective truth requires uncertainty and doubt. Without uncertainty, we see an issue with “sureness” and “resolve” based on our own experience. Will our own experience reveal the “whole truth” or does finding the whole truth require something more?

When we see the “truth” only through our own life experience, we miss the vast domain that is the collective human experience. Can we really call this narrow understanding of the world the “truth?” It is, in effect, a self-interested view of the truth, one that will see what it wants to see. We can only accurately say “this is my truth, this is what I see, this is what I think, or this is how I feel.”

Is an objective truth even achievable? Scholars disagree. Some believe that there are no objective moral truths. Others believe that there is a universal truth that transcends the experience of any one individual.

“Our definitions and all the answers we’re looking for are really standing on the quicksand of cultural changes and political theories which are in conflict and contradiction, one with another.”

Ravi Zacharias, The Quest for truth in a post truth culture, Yale University

A person wanting to discover objective truth will have to work at it, using open-mindedness, detachment from preconceived ideas, and an intentional quest. That leads me to the first way to spot misinformation and false narrative.

How can you spot a source of misinformation and false narrative?

Sources of misinformation and false narrative will tell you that you have all the information needed and will discourage you from looking further into the issue.

A source of misinformation or false narrative will want you to respect its authority to do the thinking FOR you, so you will take the “information” at face value.

Creators of misinformation and false narrative will not want you to look beyond the statements made. Their power lies in the reader’s blind trust. In contrast, sources advocating objective truth will encourage you to learn about an issue so that you can see the situation and the value of the proposed solution for yourself.

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Are Ethics and Morals Different?

Labarynth representing ethics and morals

By Linda Fisher Thornton

With my background in Linguistics, I tend to view the divergence of ethics terms (that originally meant the same thing) as a distraction from what we need to know and do. Creating categories and subcategories of ethics may ‘carve out new territory’ or help us understand ethics at a deeper level, but it also puts more perceived distance between leaders and ethical choices.

There are dozens of terms for different types and branches of ethics. Unfortunately, this abundance of ethical terminology causes leaders and managers to experience overload and confusion. We may divide things up into smaller parts to understand them, but to act on them requires a more holistic view.

So let’s dig into the big question – “Are ethics and morals the same thing?” Ethicists and scholars disagree. Some scholars advocate the importance of acknowledging the many different branches of ethics that have been carved out since the terms were originated. I believe that it’s more helpful to remember that ethics and morals originally meant the same thing.

“The Latin ‘moral’ was coined by Cicero to translate ‘ethical’ from Greek philosophy so that at the start the two words were equivalent.”

G. Moran, NYU

We can review peer-reviewed encyclopedia entries of different aspects of ethics, which are helpful for learning, but when we need to make good choices in real life we need a different perspective.

“In contemporary non-technical use, the two terms are more or less interchangeable, though ‘ethics’ has slightly more flavor of theory.”

Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy

Are ethics and morals different? While some may argue that the terms have diverged, we should remember that ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’ originally meant the same thing. Remember the origin of the words helps us avoid getting stuck in the terminology quagmire and lets us focus our energy on determining the right thing to do.

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Ignoring Toxic Leadership is Not Worth the Tradeoffs

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Toxic behavior is a problem in organizations across industries and it’s often ignored. Organizations that delay dealing with toxic behavior, though, will find that it spreads and erodes the integrity of an ethical culture.

Toxic behavior may be “allowed” to flourish because an employee or manager is a “top performer” in other aspects of the job. This is a dangerous bargain for organizations to make. By allowing the toxic behavior to continue unchecked, they keep the perpetrator’s top sales results, but the fallout is not worth it. Factoring in the negative impact on trust, the reduction in the quality of work-life for employees and colleagues, and the erosion of the importance of values in the organization, it’s a losing proposition.

If we SAY in our values that we demonstrate RESPECT and then we allow disrespectful behaviors, we are sending the message that respect is not really required. Since toxic behaviors destroy trust, customers and employees who expect to be treated better often leave to find a safer place to invest their money, time and talents.

The problem worsens if entry-level employees are handled differently from top leaders. If you coach a toxic front-line employee before taking performance action that may include termination, but you allow a leader to continue unchecked, you are applying a power dynamic that can make employees feel powerless and victimized.

What are employees thinking when the leader who is verbally assaulting them is keeping the job, not being coached, and getting bonuses and promotions? They are thinking that the company has a different standard for leaders than the standards it applies to employees.

A double standard not only lacks integrity, but also tells employees, customers and colleagues of the toxic leader “we don’t care about your well-being.” Our constituents have choices, and they will exercise them if they are not treated well. When was the last time you went back to a store where someone was repeatedly rude to you? The bottom line is that organizations can’t afford the fallout from sending a “we don’t care about your well-being” message to the employees, customers or colleagues of a toxic leader.

Resources For Learning:

13 (Culture-Numbing) Side Effects of Toxic Leadership

Can a Toxic Leader Be Ethical? Yes and No.

Unethical Leadership: Selective Respect

Every Decision Changes the Ethical Culture Equation

Take Positive Action When You See Unethical Leadership

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