debunking handbook 2020

The Debunking Handbook 2020 has just been published and is an excellent free guide to address the mass amounts of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda that flow through our digital communications everyday and then influence real life behaviours. I have discussed some of these phenomena previously, in confronting the post-truth machines and pre-bunking the conspiracy theorists.

The 19-page Handbook provides these handy definitions.

  • Misinformation: False information that is disseminated, regardless of intent to mislead.
  • Disinformation: Misinformation that is deliberately disseminated to mislead.
  • Fake news: False information, often of a sensational nature, that mimics news media content.
  • Continued influence effect: The continued reliance on inaccurate information in people’s memory and reasoning after a credible correction has been presented.
  • Illusory truth effect: Repeated information is more likely to be judged true than novel information because it has become more familiar.


supporting workplace performance

Many workplace performance issues cannot be solved through training, such as:

  • Poor communications
  • Unclear expectations (such as policies & guidelines)
  • Inadequate resources
  • Unclear performance measures
  • Rewards and consequences are not directly linked to the desired performance

The barriers above can be addressed without training. Only when there is a genuine lack of skills and knowledge is training required. Even a trained worker, without the right resources and with unclear expectations, may still not perform up to the desired standard. Allison Rossett states that “… performance support is a repository for information, processes, and perspectives that inform and guide planning and action.” There are many cases where performance support is needed to help workers, even if they are trained. (more…)

when training is the wrong solution

Training is too often the proverbial hammer in search of nails. It’s an easy check mark to show that action has been taken, assuming that improving individual skills is the core issue that needs to be addressed. But training does not improve diversity.

Firms have long relied on diversity training to reduce bias on the job, hiring tests and performance ratings to limit it in recruitment and promotions, and grievance systems to give employees a way to challenge managers … The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash. … That’s why interventions such as targeted college recruitment, mentoring programs, self-managed teams, and task forces have boosted diversity in businesses. Some of the most effective solutions aren’t even designed with diversity in mind. —HBR 2016-07

In another experiment with 10,000 employees of large global corporations, diversity training had little impact where it mattered.

We found very little evidence that diversity training affected the behavior of men or white employees overall—the two groups who typically hold the most power in organizations and are often the primary targets of these interventions. —HBR 2019-07-09


complexity rules

  1. We live and work in a complex system. Simple, traditional linear models do not work in complex systems.

  2. Campbell’s Law is a real thing – people change their behavior to meet targets. These ‘corruption pressures’ often have unintended consequences.

  3. Unintended consequences are often negative like the Cobra Effect – things are far worse than when you started. —What’s the Pont? 2020


hopes and fears

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space. Invite one to stay.”Maya Angelou

@Tom_Peters“Sunday reminder to leaders. The way you have behaved in the last 6 months and will behave in the next 6 months will define your entire professional career. (David Brooks: ‘resumé virtues’ [‘accomplishments’] versus ‘eulogy virtues’ [what folks say at your funeral])”

@DebraWatkinson “If we walked into a store with a lit cigarette — wait no one does that nowadays, but we once could and did. This anti-mask thing is so much more than political. It is anti-society.”

@CriticalLearner — “At some point, I have to remember my grandfather’s advice — you can’t say the right thing to the wrong person — at which point it is best to move on.”

@CarvingThought“‘Research’ is often disguised procrastination. Iteration is the key to rapid learning.” (more…)

decision-making and trustworthiness

In the book Systems Thinking: Managing chaos and complexity, J. Gharajedaghi provides an example of decision-making by indigenous people of North America. The Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora)  had given specific roles to its member tribes, namely Wolves (Pathfinders), Turtles (Problem Formulators), and Bears (Problem Solvers). Solving problems (e.g. governance) went like this:

  1. Wolves — Set direction, and identify relevant issues
  2. Turtles — Define the problems
  3. Bears — Generate alternatives and recommend solutions
  4. Turtles — Check on the potency of the recommended solutions
  5. Wolves — Integrate the solutions, keep the records, communicate the decisions

Could this model be incorporated into our current organizations? (more…)

revisiting cooperation

“collaboration means ‘working together’. That’s why you see it in market economies. markets are based on quantity and mass.

cooperation means ‘sharing’. That’s why you see it in networks. In networks, the nature of the connection is important; it is not simply about quantity and mass …

You and I are in a network – but we do not collaborate (we do not align ourselves to the same goal, subscribe to the same vision statement, etc), we *cooperate*” —Stephen Downes

When work requirements are relatively simple, they can be addressed by standardized procedures and best practices. This is the type of work that is getting automated every day. Once a flowchart can describe a process, the algorithms can get to work replacing humans. Complicated work, where systems can be analyzed and understood, can be addressed through industry best-of-breed work practices and can be assisted by enterprise software to ensure people know what is going on. (more…)

weird stuff

Fiction sometimes explains reality in a much better way.

Corvallis had asked the usual questions about job title and job description. Richard [CEO] had answered simply, “Weird stuff.” When this proved unsatisfactory to the company’s ISO-compliant HR department, Richard had been forced to go downstairs and expand upon it. In a memorable, extemporaneous work of performance art in the middle of the HR department’s open-plan workspace, he had explained that work of a routine, predictable nature could and should be embodied in computer programs. If that proved too difficult, it should be outsourced to humans far away. If it was somehow too sensitive or complicated for outsourcing, then “you people” (meaning the employees of the HR department) needed to slice it and dice it into tasks that could be summed up in job descriptions and advertised on the open employment market. Floating above all of that, however, in a realm that was out of the scope of “you people”, was “weird stuff”. It was important that the company have people to work on “weird stuff”. As a matter of fact it was more important than anything else. But trying to explain “weird stuff” to “you people” was like explaining blue to someone who had been blind since birth, and so there was no point in even trying. —Neal Stephenson (2019) Fall: or Dodge in Hell


chocolate over broccoli

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

@csessums“My new favorite definition of Gamification — the process of pouring behaviorist chocolate over instructionist broccoli. Via @bjfr.”

@white_owly“A lecturer told us a story of a woman who had lived in abject poverty most of her life. She was taken on a tour of an affluent area — an almost utopian existence. She glanced around and said ‘there must be a lot of extremely poor people somewhere nearby’.”

@GWillowWilson“I never want to hear another bad word about cultural practices of the Aztecs, the Egyptians, the Celts etc. now that we have ‘a pyrotechnical celebration of fetal genitalia burned down 100k acres in 2020’ in our history books.”

@marklittlenews“Truth is social media [e.g. Facebook] did take power from old gatekeepers and democratise information. But reality is a new algorithmic gatekeeper with a proven record of promoting lies and undermining democracy.”

@BallouxFrancois“I had never fully realised until now that the reason pandemic brought down so many empires and kingdoms in history, wasn’t the death toll, but the fear, the sense of doom, the irrationality and the disunion they unleashed.” (more…)

power shifts

“The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” ―Alvin Toffler,

I read Toffler’s book, Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century, shortly after it was published in 1990. He saw a shift in power developing due to advances in technology — from force and wealth — to knowledge.

It means that we are creating new networks of knowledge … linking concepts to one another in startling ways … building up amazing hierarchies of inference … spawning new theories, hypotheses, and images, based on novel assumptions, new languages, codes, and logics. Businesses, governments, and individuals are collecting and storing more sheer data than any previous generation in history (creating a massive, confusing gold mine for tomorrow’s historians).

But more important, we are interrelating data in more ways, giving them context, and thus forming them into information; and we are assembling chunks of information into larger and larger models and architectures of knowledge.

None of this implies that the data are correct; information, true; and knowledge, wise. But it does imply vast changes in the way we see the world, create wealth, and exercise power.

Not all this new knowledge is factual or even explicit. Much knowledge, as the term is used here, is unspoken, consisting of assumptions piled atop assumptions, of fragmentary models, of unnoticed analogies, and it includes not simply logical and seemingly unemotional information data, but values, the products of passion and emotion, not to mention imagination and intuition.

It is today’s gigantic upheaval in the knowledge base of society — not computer hype or mere financial manipulation — that explains the rise of a super-symbolic economy.