Tag Archives: Bottom-line

How ‘Fake News’ Damages Your Company and What You Can Do About It

Since the election, the idea of “fake news” has been prominently debated. Whether from willful blindness or a general sense of gullibility, stories that appear real have spread throughout social media…but this is not a new phenomenon.

200 years ago it was reported that after cutting down a cherry tree, a six year old George Washington guiltily told his father, “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” Similarly, Paul Revere didn’t ride through the streets of Concord, Massachusetts yelling, “The British are coming” and Isaac Newton did not discover gravity when an apple fell on his head.

While these stories are technically fake news, they are distinguished from today’s fake news in their intent. When Mason Locke Weems penned the cherry tree tale in 1806, he was trying to illustrate Washington’s virtue so as to inspire young Americans to emulate him. Elias Phinney relayed Revere’s ride as an act of patriotism. And John Conduitt used Newton’s apple story as a metaphor so the less educated could understand the concept of gravity.

The fake news in our current political climate is more in the vein of Marie Antoinette’s, “Let them eat cake.” This quote was inaccurately attributed to Antoinette when a French Revolutionary anti-establishment pamphlet distributed it as a cartoon. In publishing such an untruth, the author was not trying to generate a metaphorical narrative; rather he was seeking to fuel the insurrection and overthrow of the French government.

As Antoinette can attest, fake news is inherently destructive in nature. Whether it’s from protesters or government leaders, these stories have no purpose but to disparage those with opposing views, stoke irrational fears, and spread falsehoods. There is no way to rationalize it; if an argument is well-intentioned, the truth should be sufficient to convince the masses. If it’s not, you need a better argument.

Consider how your company reacts when a malicious rumor is started. These localized fake news stories have long lasting negative ramifications on your team. Not only are they distracting, but the fabrications harm reputations, working relationships, and the overall culture. This then affects performance, productivity, and the bottom line.

There are two action items we can learn here. One, we need to do a better job identifying and quashing fake news. If you think this sounds easy, think again. A recent Stanford study found that students cannot determine fake news from real news. This lack of critical thinking is particularly alarming considering their nonstop media consumption. Participants had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles and were unable to identify where information came from. In addition, more than 80% believed a native ad identified with the words “sponsored content” was a real news story AND only 25% recognized and were able to explain the differences between a verified Twitter account and one that simply looked legitimate.

This finding indicates that students may focus more on the content of social media posts than on their sources. Despite their fluency with social media, many students are unaware of basic conventions for indicating verified digital information.—Sam Wineburg & Sarah McGrew

The second action item is that as leaders we must take responsibility for this fakery within our organizations. This begins with educating those on our team to be discernable absorbers of information. When new information is presented, teach them to evaluate it based on the following questions:

  1. Do you know the source? Is he/she reliable and trustworthy?
  2. Can you verify the information?
  3. How does it measure up to what you already know?
  4. Does it make (common) sense?
  5. Do you understand the complexity of the information?
  6. Do you understand the context of the information?
  7. What biases do you have that could affect how you interpret the information?
  8. Have subject matter experts corroborated the information? What about the company’s executive team?
  9. How current is the information?
  10. What is the intent of the person disseminating the information?

Fake news is an epidemic. Thankfully, you are in a position to be the Senior Editor of your organization’s “news” outlet. When fake news stories arise, no matter how trivial, report the truth. Don’t allow even one minor fib to become part of the dialogue. The more you practice this, the more fact-checking will become engrained in your culture.

Mel Brooks on Becoming More Holistically Diligent

In a recent interview Mel Brooks discussed one of the few flops of his career, the 1986 movie Solarbabies. What started as a small $5 million dollar sci-fi movie became a $25 million dollar disaster. There were a multitude of bad decisions that caused Mel to have to take out a second mortgage on his home, sell a few cars, and continuously go back to his financers for additional funds. In the end it took 25 years to break even on this laughably bad film.

When asking how a movie like this could get made by such a genius as Mel Brooks, you can blame the script, the director, or a slew of other choices, but once you’ve diagnosed the issue(s), the real question to ask yourself is, ‘How can I avoid making these mistakes next time?’ Brooks reflected on his Solarbabies lesson:

[At the time] I thought: I’ve got other fish to fry. $5 million? We can do this, we can knock this off. It’s not much… But it was a great lesson. It was like 20-25 years ago, however many years ago, and since then I have been successful because it made me aware of everything that I was doing… I’ve never lost a penny since. I’ve never really failed since. I’ve never broke the bank and took, you know, a billion dollars, but I’ve really done very well ever since. Because it was an incredible lesson in diligence. A lesson in diligence: You must pay attention to the finances of what you’re doing. Not just the artistic. Because, until then, I was only focused on the art of the film—making sure that worked—I didn’t give a s–t about the money… So ever since then, I’ve been diligent and paid a lot of respect to how things are funded; who put money in and how to get their money back, you know?

solarbabiesIf you are in the business world, consideration of finances may not seem surprising, but that is a small part of the lesson. The real message is the need for holistic diligence. We must be attentive to the bottom-line in addition to the quality of the product, engagement of customers and employees, marketing, company culture, safety and regulatory standards, and overall industry. To only focus on one or two of these areas will limit your effectiveness as a leader and will stunt the growth of your organization.

Holistic diligence involves getting into the minutiae. For leaders who struggle with the more detail-oriented tasks, here are five things you can do to improve your diligence:

Recognize that diligence is a skill that can be developed. Like any other skill, we can develop our attention through regular practice and training. While you may prefer metacognition and higher-order thinking processes, leadership requires the ability to take charge of attention so we can improve memory, problem solving, decision making, and the ways we incorporate new information.

Develop a system of checks and balances. Utilize the team to double-check your work. Create step-by-step processes and checklists for recurring tasks and prioritize intradepartmental cross-training.

Give yourself time to think. Detail work takes creativity, and creativity often needs time to percolate. Step away from the project so you can see it with fresh eyes. Even if its only subconscious, the idea continues to stir around your brain when you’ve moved on and, once you refocus, it will produce a better result.

Maintain a thorough task management system. Diligence requires organization. Maximize your calendar and to-do lists. Start each day with a plan and revisit it frequently. Prioritize tasks and ensure that your time is spread amount the many facades of your company.

Move around. Sitting still will not improve your ability to focus. Consider doodling, playing with putty, or mindlessly manipulating an object. According to psychologist and author Abigail Levrini, this can “actually free up your mental energy so you can focus a little better.”

Mel Brooks became a more successful moviemaker once he took hold of all aspects of his films and Broadway shows—and he didn’t learn this until after Blazing Saddles and History of the World, Part I. Imagine if he had acquired this knowledge 20 years sooner? We can learn from Brooks’ example. Do not dismiss the smaller ventures as inconsequential. Maintain a big picture view of the project. And, no matter how much someone may beg, do not agree to produce a post-apocalyptic movie about kids who like to play hockey.