Monday, January 2, 2017

What An Era of Post-Truth Portends For Strategy

We are in the midst of a maelstrom whose end is nowhere in sight. The term ‘post truth era' was recently coined to describe a cultural shift that became particularly topical during the 2016 US Presidential campaign, in which the integrity of 'facts' were rivaled by opinions unsupported by the rigor of proof. This cultural shift exceeds far beyond the political economy origins and mass media popularization from which it began. The impact of this shift on strategy is as yet unknown but its implications are worthy of being explored given the considerable effect it could have on the quality of strategic activities and outcomes.
The roles of intuition vs analysis in shaping and making decisions is a long-fermenting debate in leadership fields and strategy in particular, one that is likely to be shaped by the post-truth shift. Intuition and analysis are not alternatives: any tenure in a senior position inevitably requires the right blend of both. The issue is the balance of the two and the degree of trust in each. As with complex topics there are pros and cons to each side. Proponents of analysis typically have the consistency (and comfort therein) of an observable, repeatable process but its form can seriously limit the scope and richness of findings and therefore its value. Proponents of intuition assert its value when informed by deep experience. Its lack of observable origin - the result of ‘system 1’ type activity in Kahneman terms - is a limitation that leaves some audiences unable to trust it. At the very least they struggle to reliably differentiate between real insight and biased opinion.
The impact of a post-truth culture will sharpen the burden of proof required of seasoned strategy professionals as a reaction against the ambiguous trustworthiness of opinion and feeling-based claims in pop culture and mass media. Clients will demand more tangible proof and origin for the strategy work they buy. This is not a bad thing. Strategy is not an improv sport but it's become somewhat fashionable of late for it to behave this way. Under unmanaged conditions, opinions and even conjecture become easily merged and adopted as fact. In a work setting anecdotes of personal experience assume a currency whose perceived value rivals independent sources. The ripples from a post-truth culture will challenge intuition as a legitimate source of strategic activity as well as the easy confidence that often accompanies it (intuition after all is often presumed to be right). Overall, the lower standard of truth 'proof' in wider culture won't lower the standard in the strategy world. On the contrary, it will raise it.
Post-truth culture will raise another bar for the business world, for marketers rather than strategists. Brands and their marketing claims will be more scrutinized as the result of swirling ambiguity people increasingly come to expect everywhere else. A crisis of trust is itself not new (see The Crisis of Trust in A Social Age, 2011) but the nature and magnitude of its impact is. Where there is challenge there is opportunity. Brands that provide useful transparency and deliver consistency in terms and claims across their service and product ecosystems stand to do much better than those who do not.