Beliefs Are Complicated

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in the Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives series explored truth and narrative, and Part 2 examined how data and motives relate to the truth. Part 3 addressed the importance of media literacy. In this follow up, we take a deeper look at truth and belief.

It turns out that beliefs are complicated. How do we know if our beliefs are actually true?

“Many people don’t realize that every thought that pops into their heads isn’t true, and they are unable to decipher authentic beliefs from false ones.”

— Mike Oppland, How Psychology Combats False and Self-Limiting Beliefs

But if we learn to manage the automatic messages popping into our heads all day long, we’ll be able to tell the difference, right? Not necessarily.

As July Beck says in This Article Won’t Change Your Mind, in The Atlantic, “There are facts, and there are beliefs, and there are things you want so badly to believe that they become as facts to you.”

At least we change our minds when presented with the facts, don’t we? If we’re presented with facts that contradict our beliefs don’t we automatically change them? Not necessarily.

“Unfortunately, we still form beliefs without vetting most of them, and maintain them even after receiving clear, corrective information.”

Annie Duke, Why Your Brain Clings To False Beliefs (Even When It Knows Better), Fast Company

Daniel DeNicola writes in his Psyche article You Don’t Have a Right To Believe Whatever You Want To that “Beliefs aspire to truth – but they do not entail it. Beliefs can be false, unwarranted by evidence or reasoned consideration. They can also be morally repugnant.

Trendwatching.com says in The Fight For Facts that “consumers’ ramped- up search for news prompted a misinformation avalanche, what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls an infodemic’.

People often share a new piece of information they believe to be true in haste without considering the repercussions. Is it unethical to share a false belief that could cause harm to others? Yes. It violates many ethical principles including truthfulness, trustworthiness, respect, care, and “do no harm.”

“Information on Twitter (and other social platforms that use short and fast messages) is particularly likely to be evaluated based on emotional responses with little input from higher cognitive functions.”

—Tali Sharot, Why People Can’t Agree on Basic Facts, Time

We’ve been focusing on whether or not we can trust other people, but it turns out the problem is much closer than we realized. It turns out that we can’t always trust ourselves. Annie Duke suggests in her Fast Company article Why Your Brain Clings To False Beliefs (Even When It Knows Better): that “the next time you argue with someone over something you believe to be true, step back and ask yourself how you came to this conclusion.”

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5 Ways to Avoid Opinions That Lack Insight and Understanding

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Lately we’ve been seeing too much content that is not grounded in understanding. Some of it is intentionally misleading and some of it is well-intentioned but misinformed.

What this means is that we have to learn how to recognize misinformation, but also, and even more importantly, carefully tend how we convey our own opinions.

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

― Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man

Before sharing your opinion, use the questions in this Self-Check; make sure you are on track to sharing your opinion in a way that leads to insight and understanding.

Opinion Self-Check

  1. Do I get angry when I think about this?
    • Anger clouds our judgment and bypasses our moral checks
    • If it makes you angry, slow down
  2. Have I researched the issue using multiple reputable sources?
    • Spreading misinformation is ethically problematic
    • Do your research first
  3. Have I thought it through before expressing an opinion?
    • Speaking without thinking is a recipe for disaster
    • Think about the issue and how your opinion could be perceived by others
  4. Have I listened to what a diverse group of voices is saying on the subject?
    • Our social media feed will share content that agrees with what we already believe, entrenching us in a narrow perspective
    • Seek out differing opinions from people and groups before you make up your mind on the issue
  5. Have I stayed open to changing my mind?
    • A closed mind isn’t going to change as the world changes
    • Stay open to changing your opinion as you learn more and reflect on the issue

As Clara Barton famously said, we “cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind.”

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Human Leadership is the Leadership We Need

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As we struggle with compounding challenges around the world, people are more and more frequently seeking information about human or humane leadership. Why is the topic so timely? I believe it’s critical now because in a crisis we need a leader who can make people feel safe, respected and protected.

Here are some inspiring quotes about important elements of human leadership:

“Human leadership is grounded in self-respect and unconditional love. It comprehends and honors all people’s equal right to equity, dignity and integrity. It recognizes all people for who they are, accepts their unique contribution, treats them with respect and recognizes their value.” 

Sesil Pir, Human Leadership: What It Looks Like, And Why We Need It In The 21st Century, Forbes

As our understanding of what “good leadership” means continues to change, we are incorporating more of what it means to be human into the ways we lead.

“Businesses have started to treat employees like human beings, rather than workers whose only relevant wishes are company related.”

Daniel Ross, Six Ways Leaders Can Humanize an Organization, SHRM’s Executive Network, HR People + Strategy

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”

— John Buchan

Being human with others and leading them with zeal won’t be enough. Our leadership must demonstrate the highest character.

“Leadership consists not in degrees of technique but in traits of character.”

— Lewis H. Lapham

“Humans will probably always need the help of especially gifted moral leaders in order to extend the bonds of caring and trust beyond the easy range of the family and the face-to-face community. Such bonds have become essential to the future of humanity.”

—Paul R. Lawrence, Driven To Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership

Ethics is at its heart about treating other people well. Human leadership is based on essential ethical principles, with ethics treated as central, not as an afterthought.

Ethical principles help us bring out people’s best and create a positive environment, and when they are central to our thoughts, words, and actions we can nurture a workspace that is human-friendly.

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Pluralism: 9 Elements Required For Ethical Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Pluralism is required in our leadership thinking as a positive force that informs how we treat people and make decisions. It’s the expansive mindset that is the key to important ethical leadership responsibilities such as respect, inclusion, and cultural awareness.

“If you know whether a man is a decided monist or a decided pluralist, you perhaps know more about the rest of his opinions than if you give him any other name ending in IST. To believe in the one or in the many, that is the classification with the maximum number of consequences.” ― Will James

Merriam-Webster defines pluralism as “a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.”

Pluralism, by its nature, is many things:

  1. Inclusive
    • Including everyone without losing the uniqueness of traditions or people
  2. Listening
    • Listening with care and attention and honoring a diverse group of voices
  3. Accepting
    • Being comfortable with different backgrounds, styles, traditions, approaches and ways of thinking
  4. Collaborative
    • Seeing the importance of diversity of thought in creating powerful solutions together
  5. Unafraid
    • Talking about our shared challenges, and seeing those conversations as a step toward solutions
  6. United
    • Working with individuals to build trust and educate each other on cultural traditions
  7. Evolving
    • Changing our minds and behavior willingly because we will never know everything about everything and expectations change over time
  8. Whole
    • Including everyone of every background, regardless of their life story
  9. Learning
    • Staying open to learning because we will make mistakes as we work together and learn about each other at the same time

A leader who embraces pluralism will not be afraid to go into the spaces where diverse groups of people meet, get to know each other, and work together.

“I thought about the meaning of pluralism in a world where the forces that seek to divide us are strong. I came to one conclusion: We have to save each other. It’s the only way to save ourselves.” — Eboo Patel

Ethical leaders know that we are stronger and better together, and they do everything possible to leverage that strength to solve our shared problems.

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Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To wrap up a recent series of posts about truth, misinformation and how to spot false narratives, here is a summary of key points and questions for discussion.

Key Points About Finding The Truth:

Part 1 What is Truth?

To find a more objective truth requires uncertainty and doubt. Without uncertainty, we only see an issue with “sureness” and “resolve” based on our own experience.

Part 2 How Does Data Inform The Truth?

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.

Part 3 What Role Does Media Literacy Play in Discovering The Truth?

Sources of misinformation and false narratives have a self-interested motive (and do not care about us or our well being). Our job is to stay literate as misinformation becomes more sophisticated and harder to spot.

How to Spot Misinformation and False Narratives:

Part 1 Watch For Relying on Blind Trust

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.

Part 2 Watch For an Opportunistic Spin Used to Evoke Emotion

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.

Part 3 Look For Credible Sources Before Buying In or Sharing

Sources of misinformation and false narrative may not share sources backing up the story OR the sources they share are not reliable. Media literacy is how we avoid being tricked.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What false narrative might we be accepting as “truth?”
  2. How does that false narrative push our buttons, stoke our anger or tap into something we want to be true?
  3. What is the motive for sharing this false narrative? Is it monetary? Political? Initiating conflict? Diversion from a reputation issue?
  4. What steps will we take to be sure we’re not being misled before sharing information in the future?

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Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From Isolation

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Some people may think that the change we are experiencing as a result of COVID-19 is a temporary inconvenience, but it’s much more than that. It’s a wake-up call that we have been living too close to the edge, rushing through precious moments. We have been postponing sustainable practices that can contribute to our wellness and the well-being of the planet. Now that the pandemic has slowed the clock on the daily rush hour and frequent flyer miles, we can see what clean air looks like. Our leadership responsibility, like the air above our cities, is clear.

During a pandemic, successful leaders spend time noticing, appreciating, encouraging, focusing and getting comfortable with leaning and leading into the unknown.

Noticing:

We need to hear the sound of chirping birds,

and notice the gradual opening of summer flowers.

We need to notice neighbors caring about each other,

finding ways to reach out,

and helping each other through challenging times.

Appreciating:

We can appreciate simple things,

like time with each other,

or another day of being well (or getting well).

We can be grateful for those who sacrifice and risk so we can stay well,

and for businesses of all sizes finding new ways of delivering goods and

services to help us through difficult times.

Encouraging:

We can support and encourage each other

because work and life have become more challenging,

and online classes bring additional hurdles to overcome.

Helping each other helps us get through it,

as we change the ways we work and live.

Focusing:

We can stay focused on positive outcomes,

in spite of the continual barrage of bad news that each day brings.

When there is less structure in a work-from-home scenario,

and being an essential worker brings so many risks,

it’s easy to become distracted and fearful.

With so many challenges we must overcome,

we must intentionally focus our time and efforts

on the positive outcomes we’re working toward.

Leaning Into the Unknown:

It takes courage to keep getting up and facing the unknown,

when we don’t know how long this will last.

We don’t know whether or not we will get sick,

and if we do, whether or not we will get well.

Each day is precious.

Leading Into the Unknown:

Leading during a pandemic is moving beyond self-preservation

to guide others to safety.

It’s putting our own mask on first and then assisting others.

While we find our way through this unknown space,

our leadership will determine the outcome for others.

We need to overcome our own fear and shift into sense-making

so that we can guide others.

As messages and data sources conflict, we need to dig deeper

to understand what’s really happening,

and determine the best way forward.

That will be the only way to make sure

that the outcome for us and for others is positive.

What I hope is that we take this new fully-present comfort-with-the-unknown that we are learning with us for the rest of our lives, and when the threat of the pandemic has waned, that we continue to apply it in our leadership as if every day mattered.

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Leaders: Manage Job Loss During COVID-19 With Care

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I was asked to weigh in on several important questions about the economy and job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic for an article about unemployment that appeared at WalletHub.com.

Leaders may feel that they are somewhat powerless to help when people are laid off. There is a sense that their options are limited by the constraints of the situation and the business’s current economic challenges. I believe, though, that even when job loss or reduction in work hours is inevitable, there are still things leaders can do to help meet people’s deepest human needs.

“Those who find themselves unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic need to be treated with respect and allowed to maintain a sense of personal dignity...Leaders can acknowledge that what people are experiencing is devastating for them and their families.”

— Linda Fisher Thornton

Even if jobs are no longer available, leaders can offer respect, care and support. Those important leadership roles can be extended at no financial cost and they make a significant difference for the people impacted by COVID-19 related job loss.

Leaders can handle any job loss or reduction in hours in ways that help people retain their dignity and regain their footing during difficult times.

To learn more about what leaders can do to support people who have lost jobs during COVID-19, read my advice in the article Cities with the Biggest Growth in Unemployment Due to COVID-19 by Adam McCann, Financial Writer at WalletHub.com.

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Companies Doing Good in Bad Times

By Linda Fisher Thornton

A pandemic is an event that happens to all of us. All our plans are scrapped and we have to reinvent ourselves in real time, with others still depending on us for services. Protests, as they should, have a profound impact on all of us. Dealing with these situations is the ultimate leadership challenge.

I am grateful to see so many businesses sharing resources and ideas freely and finding a way to do some good for others during this challenging time. Our shared crises can only be managed effectively with everyone pulling together to make good choices.

Some people approach the challenge of leading in bad times from the point of self-interest, trying to benefit from the misfortune of others. They may focus on hoarding critical supplies and price gouging as they take advantage of the situation.

Ethical leaders, in contrast, think about their responsibility to others at a higher level and for the longer term. Companies that put the greater good ahead of profits and “business as usual” are inspiring all of us.

George Floyd’s tragic murder during the pandemic is sparking companies to take a stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, including some companies who have already taken steps to help others get through the pandemic.

Shana Lebowitz noted in Business Insider that the most effective responses to George Floyd’s death “confronted discomfort head on, and invited difficult conversations. And they outlined concrete plans for cultivating diversity and inclusion, both in the workplace and in the US more generally.”

We are leading in a time when how we use our voice matters a great deal. I hope that these examples of companies taking a stand for good will prompt you to consider how you can amplify your leadership by doing good in bad times.

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Ethical Leadership: Beyond Insight to Action

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Have you had an insight while attending a conference? While listening to a speaker, you hear a new idea that strikes you as important, and you jot it down to follow up. But do you ever follow up?

As a follow up to speaking at the recent CUPA-HR Virtual Conference, I wrote a post for the CUPA-HR Blog about ethical leadership and moving from insight to action.

Author Richard Bach says that “any powerful idea is absolutely fascinating and absolutely useless until we choose to use it.” In other words, ethical leaders don’t just talk about insights, they act on them.

Linda Fisher Thornton, Three Ways to Put Ethical Leadership Into Action at Your Organization, cupahr.org

When we get a spark of inspiration and suddenly see something more clearly, the most important thing we can do is put that insight into action in our organizations.

The insights that take our thinking to a higher level will fall flat if we don’t use them to change people’s experience of our leadership.

Read the Full Article at cupahr.org

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5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in this series introduced 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership and the importance of ethical foresight. Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 explored the dimensions of Ethical Design, Legal Compliance. and Human Impact. Today’s post explores a new dimension – Evolving Ecosystem.

4: EVOLVING ECOSYSTEM

The IoT is evolving organically, like our planet. Like our planet, we must think about it as a complex ecosystem, not a random collection of parts. The ecosystem we call “the Iot” is a rapidly growing collective that includes computers, devices, networks, the internet, data and communications as well as software and product designers, companies, regulators and consumers. All of these players in the IoT ecosystem have the power to change it through their decisions and actions.

The evolving IoT ecosystem is not just a complex tactical and technological system of systems. As Gérald Santucci explains, it is “a new social contract between humans, machines, and the immediate surroundings and everyday objects.” What can happen if we literally “put our daily lives into the hands” of this evolving ecosystem? In a complex ecosystem, the concept of “direct control” is absent. In other words, one action does not directly cause the intended reaction because there are so many actors and variables changing the dynamics at any one time.

The IoT is an evolving GLOBAL NETWORK, not a collection of INTERFACES, NETWORKS AND ENGINEERS. It is a globally connected community, with human and non-human actors and interfaces directing each other’s behavior. That makes it a new type of challenge that needs a high level, values-based response.

“Recent advances in disciplines such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and neuropharmacology entail a ‘dual-use dilemma’ because they promise benefits for human health and welfare yet pose the risk of misuse for hostile purposes”  (MIT, Innovation, Dual Use and Security, Book Overview). Unless ethics is a key factor driving device design and programming, we may not even have the option to keep IoT devices under control. Machine learning adds an “actively thinking and learning” element to the ecosystem, generating additional risks that require ethical design. Even if ethics is a key factor in design, some impacts from the connectedness and interdependence of IoT devices will be outside of our control.

“The danger of the increased vulnerabilities is not being addressed by security workers at the same rate that vendors are devoting time to innovation. Consider how one might perform security monitoring of thousands of medical nanobots in a human body.” Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

The IoT is A Complex, Organic, Evolving Ecosystem With No “Owner” and No Limits
“From self-driving cars on public roads to self-piloting reusable rockets landing on self-sailing ships, machine intelligence is supporting or entirely taking over ever more complex human activities at an ever increasing pace.” Moral Machine, MIT  

“Any thing – even a human body, if equipped with the right electronic parts – can become part of IoT, so long as it can collect and transmit data through the Internet.”   Marc Jadoul, The IoT, The Next Step in Internet Evolution, Nokia

“In the IoT, everything becomes an access point on the network, which creates new security and privacy challenges. To protect your network, you must understand how that data will move – from device to device, across data centers, and even across borders – and develop security and privacy protocols that will reliably collect the data in compliance with regulatory obligations.” The Internet of Things in the Cognitive Era, IBM

“We can’t treat IoT devices like cattle any more, we have to treat them like pets that live in people’s homes and get very, very angry when they don’t get fed. One day, if we’re not careful, we are going to put JavaScript into, I don’t know, an IoT kettle and light somebody’s house on fire because “undefined” is not a function.” Emily Gorcenski, The Ethics of the Internet of Things, JSConf EU 

How will we keep our smart devices “under control” in this seemingly uncontrollable evolving ecosystem? Here are some key success factors.

  1. We will need to imagine an ethical IoT and govern and guide its evolution accordingly.

“What kind of digital planet do we want? Because we are at a point where there is no turning back, and getting to ethical decisions, values decisions, decisions about democracy, is not something we have talked about enough nor in a way that has had impact… And sticking with the environmental metaphor, we really are at a choice point where we could build a forest, a rich ecosystem, something that supports life. Or we could end up very quickly with a clearcut, where there’s not much of anywhere to live and not much around at all.” Mark Surman, Are We Living Inside an Ethical (and Kind) Machine?, re:publica

  • IoT organizations will have to work together. (Note that even if they do, the challenges will be great).

“The ‘mission’ of the entire IoT ‘system’ was not pre-defined; it is dynamically defined by the demand of the consumer and the response of vendors. Little or no governance exists and current standards are weak. Cooperation and collaboration between vendors is essential for a secure future IoT, and there is no guarantee of success.” Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

  • Monitoring and safety innovations will have to keep up with product innovation and the evolution of the IoT ecosystem. (Note that we are using the systems we want to control to manage the security of the IoT, reducing the human ability to impact the ecosystem even further).

“As automation increases in IoT control systems, software and hardware vulnerabilities will also increase.”  “Automated security monitoring will be essential as control systems grow to exceed the capacity of humans to identify and process security logs and other security information.”

Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

  • Physical security will have to increase its scope and vigilance in response to new risks. (Note that in addition to the risks in the virtual realm, the IoT also creates tangible objects that can be used to harm).

“As self-healing materials and 3D printers gain use in industry, supplychain attacks could introduce malicious effects, especially if new materials and parts are not inspected or tested before use.” Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

  • We will need to upgrade our understanding of human rights to govern in this realm. (Note that whatever is decided about robot rights will add to the complexities of the ethics of the IoT).

“Many people assume the rights and protections we enjoy in democratic society are applicable to the IoT realm. Is this not the case? Whether we’re dealing with rights and protections in existing scenarios or new ones, the IoT will be a brave new world. We will need to conceptualize, extend, or re-establish a working notion of individual rights and the public good.” Francine Berman, Toward an Ethics of the Internet of Things

  • We will need to build trust, transparency and accountability into the system

“An important element of loT Good Practice is its supporting mutual trust amongst all the components of loT ecosystems: human, devices, applications, existing institutions and business entities. Trust is boosted by a recognition of personal needs; by transparency in how things are organized-namely in a way that clearly shows that relevant measures have been taken to meet those needs-; and by accountability in ensuring that responsibilities are clear, and if someone responsible (person or organization) fails to live up to what is promise or required, they will be made accountable, thus assuming a principles based front end (“ethical”) and harms based backend (accountable).”

Working Paper: IoT Good Practice Paper, Dynamic Coalition on the Internet of Things (DC-IoT)

We need to program smart devices to think ethically about the ethical implications of their choices, but when we do, will that be enough? It is clear that our currently used protocols are insufficient and that we will have to imagine solutions at a much higher level of complexity. If we don’t, the very ecosystem we want to “control,” will continue to evolve, and by evolving, will determine its own direction. That direction can quickly lead us toward outcomes that are not conducive to healthy lives and communities. Dealing with ecosystem-level questions now, we may have some ability to guide the outcome, but that window is closing fast.

This is Part 5 in the Series “5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership.” Watch for Part 6, scheduled for next week.

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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Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is Part 3 in a Leading in Context series sharing information on how to spot misinformation and false narratives. In case you missed them, Part 1 explored truth and narrative, and Part 2 examined how data and motives relate to the truth. Part 3 will address the importance of media literacy.

What Role Does Media Literacy Play in Discovering the Truth?

Misinformation relies on people having an emotional reaction and immediately sharing information with others without taking the time to evaluate its credibility.

“Ask yourself: Is this a complicated subject, something that’s hitting an emotional trigger? Or is it a breaking news story where the facts aren’t yet able to be assembled? If the answer is yes, then you need to be ultra-skeptical.”

Miles Parks, Fake News: How to Spot Misinformation, NPR

To avoid being misled, when you have a strong emotional reaction to a story, look for the source of the information and look for corroborating information from other sources. (Miles Parks, Fake News: How to Spot Misinformation, NPR)

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

One way to avoid misinformation is to check out whether or not the story is real before buying into it, sharing it and telling other people about it.

Sources of misinformation and false narrative may not share sources backing up the story OR the sources they share are not reliable. Media literacy is how we avoid being tricked.

Misinformation and false narratives may come from a dishonest leader or organization, or from a source who is motivated by CLICKS and ad revenue. These sources have a self-interested motive (and do not care about us or our well being). Whatever the source, our job is to stay literate as misinformation becomes more sophisticated and harder to spot.

Healthy Media Consumption

How You Can Stop the Fake News Madness

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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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Consumer Trends: 5 Things Brands Should Know

shopping-carts-2077841_1920By Linda Fisher Thornton

We’ve seen many articles about ethical consumerism, conscious capitalism and the responsible consumer. The bottom line is that consumers continue to expect much more from brands than an honest and perfectly executed transaction. This week, I share a high level view of 5 key things brands should know if they want to be successful in reaching responsible consumers.

Consumer Trends: 5 Things Brands Should Know

#1: Customers want more than a perfect transaction. According to Scott Lachut of PSFK, referring to the PSFK x Suzy Future Of Retail 2020 Survey, “63% are interested in purchasing a product that comes with related services to help them get the most out of their purchase” and “67% are interested in being invited to an exclusive event or activity in their favorite store.”

#2: Sustainability is becoming a way of life. According to Deloitte in Consumer 2020: Reading the Signs, an increasing number of (consumers) will be advocates for sustainability and demand it in products and practices.”

 #3: It’s important to understand where consumers are – by really listening to their concerns. Thomas Kolster, in the Adweek article It’s Time for Brands to Stop Climate Grandstanding and Listen to Consumer Needs says it time to listen, not preach. 

#4: Consumers expect authenticity AND transparency. Deloitte in Consumer 2020:Reading the Signs, says that consumers “will be likelier to sense when companies are not being genuine or authentic” and they will “expect and demand transparency.”

#5: Brands need to aim for common values that cross the spectrum of ideologies in a divisive climate. Gartner Inc., in Gartner Identifies Top Five Consumer Trends for Marketing Leaders in 2020 highlights the importance of “utiliz(ing) broadly appealing values in messaging to connect with consumers across ideologies.” 

It’s getting harder to adapt to changing consumer expectations, and keeping up with trends is the only way to meet the challenge. Stay tuned for more insights in future posts!

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Ethical Thinking: 3 Questions to Ask in the New Year

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Each year I raise questions that help leaders stay current as ethical expectations change. Here are 3 new questions to ponder as we head into a New Year. They are important questions about our ethical intentions, action and impact that will help guide our ethical choices in the coming year.

  1. How closely do our strategic plans for the coming year align with our stated values and the ethical treatment of others? When our strategic plans don’t align with our values or aren’t ethical in some way, it raises a big red flag for constituents.
  2. How will we demonstrate to our constituents that our intentions and actions are responsible? Consumers want us to show them how we are ensuring responsible leadership, instead of telling them and expecting them to believe us.
  3. How could we have a more powerful positive impact on people, communities and the environment in the new year? Constituents expect us to have a positive social and environmental impact and we need to continue to stretch to meet increasing expectations.

As ethical expectations continue to increase, the answers to these questions will help us close the gaps between our ethical intentions, actions and impact and what constituents expect.

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©2019 Leading in Context LLC

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