Better Capitalism Requires 3 Reforms

image of Market Street in Paris France - Delightability Rick Steves Tour

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on May 10, 2018, A Better Capitalism. The current economic and political framework (capitalism) is failing too many stakeholders. Evidence abounds and isn’t the subject of the talk. With 3 simple policy reforms we are on our way to a better capitalism. This may seem impossible at first. But, so was putting in place policies that enabled the building of massive towers of wealth while doing harm to people, communities, and the environment. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media.

A Better Capitalism  – an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

I’m a pragmatist. I believe we can all do better, as individuals, organizations, even the world community. So, I’m optimistic. But, I also live in the real world. In my world view, I see things as connected. They don’t sit artificially isolated from one another. Here are the connections that I see:

  • Growth in the city and tents in the parks and spaces in-between
  • Record corporate profits and the unpaid shadow work each of us perform
  • Globalization, offshore profits, flattening wages, and boomerang kids
  • Hollowed out communities and politicians desperate to remake them
  • Indebted consumers addicted to things and stuff to distract them
  • Marginalized and outraged citizens and the tone-deaf politicians elected to represent
  • Registered voters not participating in a country divided with scapegoats aplenty

We can have lawful, dignified, respectable capitalism or we can have unbridled greed, wanton destruction, and divisive crony capitalism with fewer winners supported at the expense of the public and the environment.

I’d like a better capitalism where we get the spoils of competition, continuous innovation and benefits for the many. I love that our trade and industry are privately owned and operated for profit.

I love capitalism. But, I’d love a better capitalism, even better.

What might that look like? That’s what I’ve been pondering. That’s what I want to tell you. I only have time to tell you about 3 big ideas. Here they are.

Big idea #1 – We need to decouple healthcare and employment.

Here is why. The world of work has changed. There is more and more automation. Companies are paring down employment. They use on-demand help, independent contractors, and are pushing more people to part-time to avoid the full costs of employees.

Uber and Lyft have declared themselves platforms, not transportation companies, even though their main business is providing transportation services. It’s innovative, but make no mistake this is about internalizing gains while externalizing costs to the public.

Imagine instead of fighting innovation, we embraced more of it. Free the innovators. Embrace the gig economy but don’t further cripple labor in the process. We need to decouple healthcare and employment to give 99% of the people a little bit more.

Imagine US businesses were free to focus on their core purpose and could compete more effectively with other developed nations, nations where employees already enjoy national healthcare.

Free businesses from providing healthcare and watch innovation flourish and entrepreneurship soar. American businesses will be more competitive and without adding a single tariff. What this likely means is a #MedicareForAll #SinglePayer system. That is the least expensive healthcare program we have in this country with the best health outcomes. It would also be focused on healthcare as opposed to for-profit sickcare. Get used to hearing that idea. It will come back again and again until it finally arrives.

Big Idea #2 – We need a Parasitic Index.

For too long people have been duped into believing maximizing corporate profits is synonymous with increasing shareholder value. It isn’t the same thing. You can do massive harm to customers, employees, and the environment in the name of short-term profits but you’ll have destroyed shareholder value. Just ask Volkswagen. Ask the CEO of the now defunct Peanut Butter Corporation of America who sits in a jail cell. Ask the former makers of Asbestos.

Maximizing shareholder value should mean providing reasonable returns to shareholders while acting in harmony with the environment, communities, customers, and employees. You balance stakeholders not pit one against the other.

A Parasitic Index would show how much a corporation leeches off society’s infrastructure and labor force – while killing its host in the process. Is the corporation a partner to the community or merely a beneficiary?

Imagine a world in which corporations didn’t extort cities and states for unneeded tax breaks but instead became partners in building stronger communities, improving the environment, and creating more stable democracies. Capitalism that serves is a better breed of capitalism than the unbridled greed varietal.

I just returned from a trip to central and Eastern Oregon. One of the cities I drove through was Prineville. That’s where Les Schwab founded and grew his $1B dollar tire retail chain. His motto was Doing the Right Thing Since 1952. If Jeff Bezos embraced that motto Amazon might look different and they probably wouldn’t have halted downtown development in light of the city council’s proposed “Head Tax.”

Image of Living Wage Sign in Dashi Sushi Coffee Shop Window - Bath England - better capitalism needed
Companies Who Pay a Living Wage Would Score Lower on the Parasitic Index Whereas Companies with Massive CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratios Would Score Higher
image of WPA Plaque Main Entrance Timberline Lodge Mt Hood Oregon - better capitalism needed
When Capitalism Fails Government Steps in to Alleviate Suffering as it did with the Federal Emergency Relief Act which brought economic livelihood and meaning for people with the WPA and CCC

Big Idea #3 – We need Congress to give federal prosecutors the ability to revoke a state-granted corporate charter.

You might need a little background here. The federal government doesn’t provide any mechanism to form a corporation. That is left up to the secretaries of state within each state.

Corporations have long figured out they can abuse employees, customers, and communities with impunity, to maximize profits. They can do so because if the state attorney general where they are incorporated were to harm them, the corporation can simply threaten to move to another “friendlier” state. So, companies based in Delaware, for example, are seldom sued by the State Attorney General of Delaware.

Without the ability to revoke a state-granted corporate charter, bad actors simply pay federal fines if caught in a misdeed and chalk it up to the cost of doing business. Wells Fargo recently paid a hefty federal fine but it was still tiny compared to its quarterly profit. Facebook has a long history of apologies. Losing their right to exist as a corporation would be a much stronger deterrent.

In Summary:

In society, there will always be bad actors because as Mr. Burnham points out there are people involved. Modern capitalism isn’t living up to its potential – maybe that’s because it’s not yet ruled by robots and artificial intelligence. There are still too many greedy humans in the mix.

The 3 ideas I shared will create a better capitalism. A better breed of capitalism for the good of the many, not the few. Let’s confront reality. There are too many forces leading us to a gig economy. Let’s not fight it. Let’s embrace it and flourish in its presence. People need healthcare, let’s make that a priority.

There will always be bad actors. Let’s make it more transparent and unpopular to be one. Like the #MeToo movement did for individual accountability amid sexual abuse a better capitalism includes a parasitic index to shine a light on corporate accountability in a sea of economic abuse.

And let’s give the most egregious organizations a death sentence when warranted. The ability to revoke corporate charters will allow our representatives to protect all of us from some of us.

It not cruel. It’s not personal. It’s just business AND it’s better capitalism.

about the author

image of author and consultant Gregory OlsonGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Greg is a virtual chief marketing officer to small and medium sized businesses. He founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow.

Teachers Guns and Kids – Oh My

image of interesting architecture seen in Liverpool England - Gregory Olson - Author

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on February 22, 2018, Experiences Part II . The talk ties together the Experience Halo and the emotional scars that remain after school shootings. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media. My February 1, 2018 talk on Experiences while referenced here is not yet online.}

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

It was a beautiful spring day in 2003. Exams were over. Commencement was around the corner. It was a quiet Friday afternoon.

Then the sound of smashing glass and automatic gunfire broke the calm. tatt tatt tatt tatt tatt – tatt tatt tatt tatt tatt

Professor Susan Helper came face to face with the shooter. She slammed her office door just as he fired his gun, directly at her. The bullet came through the door, hit her in the chest, bounced off her collar-bone and onto the floor.

She was lucky. She was eventually rescued by police 4 hours later.
That was Case Western University.

School Shootings Continue

Since 2013, there’s been an average of 1 school shooting per week in the U.S.

Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last week, Professor Helper spoke out. It’s been 15 years since she was shot. Physically, she healed long ago. But, every time there is another school shooting her emotional healing cycle starts again.

She knows it’s completely irrational to feel affected by a shooting that happens across the country. But, she still fears for her safety and feels powerless.

image of filmstrip that plays in mind includes experiences and stories heard of school shootings - The Experience Halo from book Experience Design Blueprint - Gregory Olson 
 
A few weeks ago, I gave a talk about experiences. In that talk I introduced The Experience Hoop. I also mentioned that much of our experiences is all in our heads. And that requires another mental model, the Experience Halo.

The Experience Halo

The Experience Halo is that filmstrip that plays in your head. It’s shaped in part by your context, but also by your past experiences, brand baggage, and stories heard.

Our Experience Halo remembers. It reminds us of the brands we love and those we hate. Our halo recalls past experiences both good and bad. And, it also remembers stories, EVEN if those stories didn’t involve us, directly.

For example, if we hear of a potential investment opportunity – our Halo might conjure up warnings of Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes or Enron – even though we may never have been affected by either one.

Happily, our Experience Halo also reminds us of good stories. Case in point: Mr. Burnham shared a wonderful story where as a boy he hit up his father for money to purchase a kite. His father refused and helped him build a kite instead. That story is now in our own Experience Halo. It didn’t happen to us, but if a kid in your life hits you up for money to buy a kite, you just might recall that story – even if you ultimately give them money.

With each new school shooting, Professor Helper’s Experience Halo AWAKENS.

I want to bring this a little closer to home.

image of open door and vulnerability from teacher who experienced a school shooting - the Experience Design Blueprint 

School Shooting Club – Not the Club You Wish to Join

My friend Dana is a Biology Teacher at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

On October 24, 2014, Dana joined the School Shooting Club. On that day, a 15-year-old assassin shot five students in the school cafeteria before killing himself.

She hasn’t gotten over it. She can’t. Like Susan Helper her Experience Halo gets stoked with every new school shooting. I want to share with you what Dana recently said:

Two thoughts occurred to me this year that most people do not have to think about at work:

First, I was sitting in my desk in my empty classroom working on my computer during my prep period. I suddenly was conscious that my door was unlocked and I started to imagine a gunman coming in to kill me. Do you ever think about that at work? When I do, I imagine begging him to let me live because I have kids who need their mother. What would you beg?

Second, when my students cleared out after the last class, there was a lone backpack left behind. As I picked it up to find out who it belonged to, I suddenly felt panicked that it might be a bomb. I began to rush it to the door to throw it outside (I’m not trained in handling bombs, clearly) and then the student came back in to claim it. I laughed it off, but thought, “What the hell is wrong with me?”

Do you ever wonder if you might have a backpack bomb at your work? Obviously, you might if you are in law enforcement or the TSA, but I AM A BIOLOGY TEACHER.

I think about saving children from being shot at school when I am not thinking about teaching them, counseling them, making sure they are fed and safe, planning their futures, and just getting them to turn in their homework.

People are coming up with terrible reasons not to keep me safe. Not to keep children safe. I’ll always be on the side of kids, and, at this point, I’m listening to them for answers.

Reasonable People Agree Yet Inaction on Gun Reform Persists

Most Americans and politicians agree that a kid that can’t buy beer shouldn’t be able to buy an assault rifle. Or, that if you are deemed dangerous enough to put on the no-fly list then you ought to be put on the “can’t buy an assault rifle list”, too.

Sadly, that list doesn’t exist. Most other lists related to guns or gun deaths doesn’t exist either. You can thank the NRA and the members of congress they purchased for that.

But, this school shooting may have finally sparked a change.

High School Students Are Leading the Change

Surviving students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting are forcing a new conversation. They’ve started movements such as #StudentsStandup, #NeverAgain, and #MarchForOurLives, a nationwide march on the 24th of next month.

image of March For Our Lives Banner from student leader who survived school shooting 
 
It IS possible to support the 2nd amendment AND also support sensible gun reform.

In this movement, politicians will be shamed for inaction on sensible gun reforms while they continue to take money from the gun lobby.

If there is one group that is even better than cats or Russian trolls at hijacking the emotions of adults, its kids. After all, they aren’t buying their own Lucky Charms.

Our teachers are not bodyguards or first responders. They are educators trained to get other people to think.

And, it looks like now it’s the kids who are getting us to think. I only hope our lawmakers will listen, learn, and act.

Nature: Our Silent Teacher- Learning from Bees, Thistles, Lotus Flowers, Sharks, and More.

image of Sea Turtle Big Island Hawaii - author Gregory Olson

What could we possibly learn from bees, thistles, lotus flowers, and sharks? As it turns out – quite a bit.

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club in September of 2016. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media.]

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

Good afternoon gentlemen. Today I’m going to talk about nature – our silent teacher.

Nature is the physical world made up of plants, animals, and the landscape – as opposed to humans and the things humans invent and produce. Without the resources of the natural world there would be no built landscape. We would have no cell phones, computers, comfortable homes, transportation, or the clothes you are wearing. In fact, we wouldn’t have any lunch. But nature gives us more than objects and resources. We use nature for leisure and recreation, to escape and find solitude, and we even use it in our art and literature.

NATURE IS A REALLY BIG DEAL.

But perhaps the biggest gift nature provides us is in its teachings. There are many lessons to be learned by this eldest of elders and indigenous to all. I am going to share four such stories.

Our first lesson comes from bees, nature’s highly social insect. One thing I didn’t have time to share a few weeks ago when I talked about ideas is that it isn’t always the highest quality ideas that advance. Sadly, in many organizations, WHO an idea comes from matters most. But, it shouldn’t. Bees don’t suffer with this problem.

Bees Have a Healthy Innovation Culture

image-of-bee-in-search-of-nectar-for-delightability-blog-postHere is how it works in a bee colony. Each morning scout bees venture off in search of nectar, water, and better nesting grounds. This pursuit is necessary to sustain life for the colony. When a bee discovers a stash of nectar, water, or a great nesting site, it returns to the hive and performs a waggle dance. In this dance the energy exuded signals to the surrounding bees the value and direction of the treasure found.  That way the bees know who to follow. This is a fully inclusive process. No scout bees returning to the nest are discriminated against for any reason.

Imagine if organizations and governments learned to be as inclusive as bees. Wicked problems might be solved and more people could participate in a widespread culture of innovation.

Imagine if organizations and governments learned to be as inclusive as bees. Tweet This!

Imitating Life: The Word for This Is…

Increasingly, creative minds  ARE turning to nature for lessons in design. The discipline is referred to as biomimicry – a word derived from the Greek words bios meaning “life” and mimesis meaning “imitate”. Or together – imitate life. (pronounced mesis like thesis)

Solutions Hiding-In-Plain-Sight

image-of-hooks-from-burdock-plant for learning from nature blog post - delightabilityMy second story is one of the most well-known and commercially successful examples of biomimicry. In 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral returned from a bird hunting trip in the Alps. He noticed his socks and his dog were littered with prickly seed burrs. While pulling off the burrs he noticed how easily they reattached. Mestral  studied the burr needles under a microscope and discovered small hooks at the end that could easily attach to fur or socks. The burdock plant uses this feature to propagate its seeds through attachment. This gave him the idea of creating a hook and loop fastener. Mestral experimented for years and eventually perfected what we now know as Velcro.

Clean as a Shark

My third story is a lesson from sharks. About a decade ago, Dr. Anthony Brennan, a professor of engineering at the University of Florida, was asked by the Navy to find a way to keep barnacles and algae from forming on the hulls of ships and submarines.  In the industry, it’s called bio-fouling. It is an expensive problem that creates drag and increases fuel costs. Clarity struck Dr. Brennan one afternoon as he watched an algae-coated nuclear submarine return to port. He remarked that the submarine looked like a whale lumbering into the harbor. He then asked the question – which slow-moving marine animals don’t foul. The answer to that question is the shark; Brennan wondered why.

image-of-shark-for-learning-from-nature-blog-post-delightability.jpgWhen he viewed shark skin under an electron microscope, he saw that it was made up of countless overlapping scales called dermal denticles (or “little skin teeth”). The pattern reduces turbulence, making water pass by faster and the rough shape inhibits parasitic growth such as algae and barnacles. Technology inspired by shark skin has improved ship hulls and even swim suits. Scientists are now using the same technique to create films and surfaces that resist bacteria growth. This has many applications but perhaps the most important is in hospitals, given the ongoing problem with Hospital Acquired Infections and drug resistant bacteria.

Natural Vacuum Cleaner

image-of-lotus-flower-for-learning-from-nature-blog-post-delightabilityOur fourth lesson from nature comes from the Lotus flower. Leaves of the lotus flower and shark skin behave similarly. The flower’s micro-rough surface repels dust and dirt particles. If you were to look at a lotus leaf under a microscope, you would see what appear to be a tiny bed of nails. These nails prevent water droplets from adhering to the surface. When water rolls over a lotus leaf, it collects anything on the surface as it rolls off, leaving behind a clean and healthy leaf. This self-cleaning property is known as the Lotus Effect.

A German company spent four years researching this phenomenon and developed paint with similar characteristics. The micro-rough surface of the paint pushes away dust and dirt, diminishing the need to wash the outside of a house.

Nature: The Original Hacker

I’ve only shared four stories – nature has plenty more lessons and many more teachers than bees, sharks, burdock thistles and lotus flowers. Whether solving social problems or inventing next generation products and technologies any innovator should first ask – how has nature already solved this? Nature is an EXCELLENT designer.  Mother Nature has been at it for a very long time, much longer than humans have been designing anything. Nature IS the original hacker.

Mother Nature has been at it for a very long time, much longer than humans have been designing anything. Nature IS the original hacker. Tweet This!

Nature’s Biggest Lesson

As global citizens on an increasingly tiny planet we share serious problems. Imagine if humankind would shift its thinking about nature – away from conquering and exploitation. And, instead we embraced our silent teacher and embedded biomimicry into the fabric of our innovation culture and institutions. If we were to do this, then perhaps we could free ourselves to learn nature’s largest lesson of all – the lesson of coexistence, balance and sustainability.

about the author

Image of Chapter 9: Environment - L'impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through TomorrowGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Chapter 9: Environment, is related to the content of this post. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGreg is a business and marketing consultant who founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow. He also believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help. Gregory serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor, Oikocredit International and as an advisor for Seattle University’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering.

 

Stuck in Low Gear? Time to Shift.

Have you ever dismissed something straightaway because you knew it to be false? Or, have you parroted something you heard because you were certain in its truth? Of course you have; we all have.

Whether it is fact or fiction if it reinforces our beliefs then we strengthen our views, digging our heels in further. And, if it doesn’t strengthen our views then we summarily dismiss it, like a filter protecting us from noxious air. Researchers refer to this phenomena as the “backfire effect.” It is even more pronounced when the new information challenges an especially emotional or long held belief. For a depth reading with examples on WMDs, Stem Cell Research, and Climate Change, see this document.

Reluctant to Change

No matter the issue, whether politics, environment, economic, or social justice and whether it is far away or something local, we are often stuck in low gear when it come to acceptance of new truths. And, it seems that we are reluctant to shift.

But, shift is what we must do. Recognize that change for change sake is not good. The logical fallacy of Appeal to Novelty (that which is NEW! is better) is as deeply flawed as its cousin, Appeal to Tradition (that’s the way we’ve always done it so it’s the best).

Progress Requires Change

Whether you are a champion of change or the status quo you must accept progress inherently requires change. But, how do you react when change is afoot? Jeffrey Moore documented well in his 1991 book, “Crossing the Chasm” that each of us self segments on an axis of risk aversion. It is a classic technology marketing read. Before him, Everett Rogers discussed the same concept in his 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovation. This line of thinking is where we get the widely used terms, “early adopter,” “laggard,” etc. This is easy to think of in terms of technology adoption.

Impossipreneurs Face Multiple Barriers

But, technology isn’t the only hurdle we face as change agents, entrepreneurs, and as a society. As I outline in my latest book, L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, once an entrepreneur overcomes technology hurdles, they must still face head-on, the political, social, and culture opponents who oppose their success and who would rather see things stay exactly as they are. This is true whether the agent of the new, was Nikola Tesla, Helen Keller, Franklin Delano Roosevelt or is the entrepreneur of today, especially the social entrepreneur. Welcome to the term, impossipreneur.

Backfire Effect Near and Far

The backfire effect  is part and parcel to the opposition faced by the bringers of the new and those who dare surface the truth. If you have a tough time grasping this concept, envision trying to ensure voting rights and fair elections, an inherently nontechnical challenge rife with political opposition. Or, think of the social and cultural barriers you’ll face in introducing safe medical and burial practices to villages grappling with the Ebola virus. The backfire effect is alive and well, near and far.

Competing Narratives

Each of us has a visceral reaction to the headlines we scan and soundbites we hear. Some anger us and some make us feel sad. Fewer by design make us happy and still fewer cause us to think deeply. Consider your reaction to what you are hearing and seeing today. What narrative are you tuning into? Are you tuned into a narrative that desires to keep things as they are or one that seeks progress? See related post about the history of regimenting minds – Mind Hajacked: A Brief History of Propaganda.

Truth Doesn’t Care About Feelings

Consider at certain points in history, it was deemed that the sun revolved around the earth and that the world was flat. New ideas and models challenged those “truths” of the moment. Do you think you would have supported these novel ideas and gone against the tide of the times? The funny thing about the truth is that it doesn’t care about your beliefs or feelings. Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation applies to you even if you choose not to believe in it. Truth has a funny way of surfacing even as others attempt to suppress it.

Reaching Our Potential

Whether we champion the new or hold onto the status quo we should do so on merits of truth, not because it’s new, tradition, or fits our current views. Resist the soothing temptation of the backfire effect. Find solace in the truth and upgrade your thinking. Imagine the possibilities when, as a society, we are able to overcome the backfire effect. Think of the authentic dialogue and meaningful connections that would ensue. It’s at that time that we will free ourselves to live in to a higher potential. I hear the gears a whirring; perhaps it’s time we shift.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded communications strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor, Oikocredit International.

Making Truth Matter

image of What is the Truth From Sagrada Familia entrance - Delightability blog post on Truth

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on May 26, 2016. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me on social media.]

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

Good afternoon gentlemen. Today I’m going to talk about the Truth.

3 noteworthy things happened this week.

  1. First, a new book came out Bravehearts: Whistleblowing in the Age of Snowden. In the book, the senior DOD official in charge of the federal whistleblower program goes public with accusations that key officials retaliated against whistleblowers, destroyed permanent records and altered audits of multibillion dollar programs. They did this under political pressure. This senior official calls into question the very program that is supposed to protect whistleblowers when they report fraud, abuse, and waste.
  2. Another noteworthy thing that happened was the acquittal of Edward Nero, one of the Baltimore police officers involved in Freddy Gray’s arrest and subsequent death. If you recall, the original incident is what sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
  3. And the 3rd thing that  happened this week is that snopes.com, debunked stories that reported violence and specifically chairs being thrown at  the democratic convention in NV. Numerous media outlets regurgitated the original tale that was casually fabricated in a 140 character tweet. Media outlets on the bandwagon included: The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, the Associated Press, CBS, and NPR.

It has been a really busy week for the TRUTH.

Now, no matter what we believe or how we react to these developments, there is a TRUTH that supersedes our opinions and reactions. I view truth much like I do gravity. You can choose not to believe but that doesn’t make it go away.

What is Truth?

I want to be crystal clear on what I mean when I say Truth. I’m talking about conformity to facts; accuracy. Certainties. The truth I’m talking about isn’t squishy. A moral relativist would have you believe that truth is relative to the circumstances. I’m not talking about a malleable truth or aberration of fact. I’m taking about that which is incontrovertible. Like Newton’s law of universal gravitation. It applies to everybody whether they choose to believe it or not.

Human Responses to The Truth

When we are exposed to a new truth, our reactions fall into a predictable range of human responses:

  1. We can be apathetic. Maybe what we are hearing is simply noise to us. We really can’t be bothered with it.
  2. Another response is we may simply adopt the truth immediately and adapt our own views.
  3. We may also seek clarity. A person can react by seeking new information and knowledge – “Help me to see what you see, Mr. Severs.“

But sometimes the facts don’t fit our current views at all – that internal narrative we play in our head. When our views are challenged with a new truth we have a few OTHER options to choose from.

  1. We can object outright: “That’s not true.” We can do this loudly and aggressively or we can do this quietly, slipping out of the conversation or even the room.
  2. We can also redirect attention: This is the magician’s trick – misdirection. Here, we shift the attention to something else more fitting of our own views.
  3. Another predictable reaction is we resort to any one of several logical fallacies. There are plenty of these to draw from. Most people are unaware of these fallacies even as they commit them.

The original logical fallacies were documented more than 2400 years ago by Plato and his thinking colleagues. You’d think we’d have learned by now.

Here are a few of my favorite logical fallacies.

The Ad Hominem Argument: This is where you attack your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.

Example: It is conceivable that any one of the presidential candidates could say something truthful. It could happen! But, reactions to their statements could easily be, “Well, he’s a communist.” “She’s a pant suits Nixon.” “He’s a xenophobe” So, we can’t trust them.

Another common logical fallacy is the The Appeal to Tradition: This is the fallacy that a standpoint, action or situation is right, proper and correct simply because it has “always” been that way. Imagine not being able to advance human progress in the name of tradition. You’d still be cooking over fire, hunting and gathering your own food, and you certainly would not be able to read this passage, and least of all on a computer or smartphone.

The opposite of this is The Appeal to Novelty or Innovation. This is the notion that this is NEW, and [therefore it must be] better!”

Then there is the The Big Lie Technique. This is the contemporary fallacy of repeating a lie, slogan, or talking-point until it becomes part of daily discourse and is no longer questioned. An example is  the non-existent “Weapons of Mass Destruction” “WMD’s” in Iraq, used in 2003 as a false justification for invading that country. [See also Mind Hijacked: A History Lesson in Propaganda.]

There are a host of other logical fallacies. [University of Texas at El Paso has compiled a living document of logical fallacies. A nicely designed poster of commonly used logical fallacies has been created by Your Logical Fallacy Is.]

What About Reaction to Lies?

Up to now I’ve been talking about our range of reactions when we are exposed to the TRUTH. But, what if we are exposed to a lie? Sadly, it doesn’t really much matter.

Whether it is fact or fiction if it reinforces our beliefs then we strengthen our views, digging our heels in further. And, if it doesn’t strengthen our views then we dismiss it. Researchers refer to this phenomena as the “backfire effect.”  It is even more pronounced when the new information challenges an especially emotional or long held belief. For a depth reading with examples on WMDs, Stem Cell Research, and Climate Change see this document.

The takeaway from this is: it’s really hard to change people’s minds.  Some people will want to build a wall, no matter the facts presented to them.

Friedrich Nietzsche said it well, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” I want to put this another way, “We only see the truth we are looking for.”

Conclusion

I opened this talk with stories about Freddie Grey, the new book BraveHearts, and debunked reports of chairs being thrown at the democratic convention. I used these 3 examples because:

  1. Protecting Truthtellers is important in a free and democratic society. Truthtellers can prevent and end wars and get dangerous products removed from the market. [See also: Preventing the Next Scandal]
  2. Police brutality is inexcusable, period. Lucky for you it wasn’t your family member. But Freddie Gray was someone’s son & brother.
  3. Communication of all forms has become faster AND sloppier. When experienced reporters and media outlets are quick to judge and almost as quick to report, the Truth can Suffer.

TRUTH SHOULD MATTER.

Our republic in caught in the grips of a protracted presidential election. As a nation, we face important issues. It is hard to solve problems when you don’t even agree on the truth.

Ann Richards the former democratic governor of Texas once said, “We’re not going to have the America that we want until we elect leaders who are going to tell the truth not most days, but every day.”

But, the Truth is too important to leave to politicians, alone.

So, What Can WE Do?

In a civilized society each of us has a duty to respect and uphold the truth. We also have a duty to hold others accountable to do the same. Imagine the possibilities if we made the truth matter. In this election year, the Republican and Democratic parties are splintered. They are worried about healing and uniting their respective parties.

Their focus however,  Ought To Be on healing a nation, not a political party.  And, that gentlemen is the Truth.  Now,  I’m counting on You to uphold it.

about the author

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINT

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Gregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.

Mind Hijacked: A History Lesson in Propaganda

image of Truth-Sculpture-Chicago-Millenium-Park-Delightability-Author-Gregory-Olson

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on Jan 28, 2016. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me on social media.]

An 8 Minute Talk And An Even Quicker Read

Gentlemen, today I’m going to take you to propaganda school, all in 8 minutes. I’m going to share the evolution of propaganda, tell you why this subject matters, and of course I’m going to suggest a course of action for you.

First , A Bit Of History.

The word propaganda comes from the Latin verb propagare – meaning to multiply or breed. Think plants. The use of the word to spread ideas came a little later. In 1622, Pope Gregory XV founded the College of propaganda. It’s purpose was to train missionaries who would spread Catholicism in non-Catholic countries.

The word Propaganda isn’t inherently good or bad. It is simply the spread of Information. But propaganda evolved. Here is how that happened. Fast forward to 1916.

A man named George Creel, became involved in President Woodrow Wilson’s re-election campaign. Creel discovered that many military leaders wanted strong censorship on the war. But, Creel had a different idea. He sent President Wilson a brief in which he argued for “expression, not suppression” of the press.

On April 2, 1917 Wilson asked Congress for a Declaration of War against Germany – saying “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Seven days after Congress granted Wilson’s request, President Wilson established through Executive Order, the Committee on Public Information or CPI for short. He appointed George Creel as its Chairman.

The CPI was a propaganda agency: (its purpose wasn’t to train Catholic missionaries – that is for sure) Its purpose was to influence American public opinion toward supporting the war effort. The CPI spun facts to present an upbeat picture of the American war effort. They created consistent messages that appeared in newsprint, posters, radio, telegraph, cable and even movies. No doubt you’ve see many of these. (Television had not yet been invented or you’d have seen messages extended to that medium, too.)

The CPI also recruited about 75,000 volunteers (4-minute men) who spoke about the war at social events. The agency was successful. It heavily influenced American public opinion toward supporting the war effort.

One of the people who worked on George Creel’s staff was Edward Bernays, he was the American nephew of Sigmund Freud. After the war ended Bernays took what he learned at the agency and wrote a book, called, Propaganda 1928. Find it here along with a great intro by Noam Chomsky.

In that book Bernays revealed it is possible to regiment the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments their bodies. Bernays recognized that in an age of democracy, those in power, control the crowds. Bernays was the first one to apply Freud’s ideas to business and politics. Bernays showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by appealing to their unconscious desires.

Bernays showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by appealing to their unconscious desires.

Bernays worked with the American Tobacco Company and created the Torches of Freedom campaign that is credited with encouraging women to smoke, socially. His ideas sparked the notion that we are all consumers. He became popular with the US Government and agencies like the CIA who used his principles to force regime change and popularize American (corporate special interests).

A Banana Digression: Did You Hear the One about Bananas and the CIA?

Unfortunately this isn’t a joke and you wouldn’t like the punchline if it was. If you eat bananas, the 4th most consumed food behind rice, wheat, and milk, you can thank Bernays and the CIA along with United Fruit. But, the democratically elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz who wanted to enact labor standards, a minimum wage, increase educational funding and opportunities for more people to vote in elections, would not thank you. His social reforms that would benefit workers and communities alike were abhorrent to the hugely profitable United Fruit Company. A CIA coup in 1954 deposed the leader and installed the first of what would become a series of U.S. military dictators. Read about the 1954 coup on Wikipedia or the book, Bananas: How The United Fruit Company Shaped the World. That could be a related story, “How the U.S. taxpayer is a stooge for funding regime change that pads the pockets of multinationals corporations. #panamapapers #taxavoidance #moneyinpolitics”

OK, back to the talk I gave…

Facts Make Way For Emotions

Today, Bernays is considered to be the father of public relations. With Bernays, propaganda shifted to be less about communicating facts and more about the movement of ideas across our emotions. Remember I said Propaganda isn’t necessarily good or bad. Propaganda can be used for good causes like promoting methods of water conservation during times of drought. There is no harm in that. Or, the Smokey the Bear campaign that reminds us that “Only You can Prevent Forest Fires.”

But propaganda can be harmful, too. Unfortunately as it turns out, Joseph Goebbels (pronounced yosif gerrbells), who would become the minister of propaganda for Nazi Germany studied and applied Bernays ideas.

So What Has Changed? Why Does This Matter?

Yesterday, Jan 27, marks the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. And today it is easier and cheaper to incite hatred and stir people up than ever before in history. Anybody can create a twitter account. ISIS is using 50,000 of them. We now have more media channels to reach more people in more parts of the world. Since 2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) has disseminated more than 700 propaganda videos.

It isn’t just ISIS, some presidential candidates are using hate speech. In Europe – the land of the Holocaust, extreme nationalists exploit the current refugee crisis. But it’s even more than that. Propaganda pervades every facet of our lives. As Bernays said, it is the invisible branch that controls the masses.

So What Do I Want You To Do?

I want you to be an active participant in shaping the truth. In my recent book I share the ideas of building truth sculptures, creating empathy, restoring community and participating in a propaganda for good network. If you are a concerned Global Citizen you should read it. It is both light-hearted and deadly serious. The subtitle is, “A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow.” I am hopeful for the future, but not without the participation of thinking concerned citizens, like you.

But, aside from my book, we all need to take a stand and sift through the propaganda to find the facts. On any given topic amid all of the messages that bombard us, is the truth waiting to be revealed. Are GMOs harmful? Are those cities, farmers, countries, and people against Monsanto really anti science and just don’t understand? Or are corporate profits controlling the narrative through propaganda? This is one example. You can probably think of many others. Minds everywhere have been hijacked on myriad topics and issues. This is especially true in the U.S. in the height of a polarized presidential election year. Chances are, most people can’t really claim ownership over their own thoughts about the candidate they support. Imagine we each had a “Mind Hijacked” alert system.

What Else Can You Do?

Write letters, articles, emails, post comments, and have conversation in places like this and at your dinner table. You can spark others to action and respect truth.

What comes to mind for me is Pastor Martin Niemoller’s Poem, First they came? It is a powerful statement about the failure of the German people to speak out against the Nazis. Do you remember the poem?

First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionists,
Then they came for the Jews, but I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me. And there was no one left to speak for me.

Gentlemen, somebody needs to be an active caretaker of the truth. If not you, who?

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.  Ideas in CH8: Social related to this post include:

  • Propaganda for Good Network
  • Depolarization Unit
  • Brain Retrain
  • Humanity Dashboard
  • Norm Flags
  • Reasonable Investor Test

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor, Oikocredit International.

Arbor Day: Your Chance To Be A Generous Designer

Nature is the Original Hacker

Nature is the original hacker; she’s been at it for a long time, much longer than humans. Does nature ever get it wrong? The follow-up question is, wrong from whose perspective, a human perspective? Or, is it like Leonardo da Vinci said of art, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Perhaps when we think of nature being wrong, whatever we’re observing simply isn’t completed.

Generous Design by Nature

Nature is bountiful and sustainable; it’s also very generous. Trees, for example, are a generous gift from nature. Glorious natural trees are water absorbing, pollution filtering, soil protecting, oxygen giving, and shelter providing. Planting trees is good for the planet as trees absorb carbon dioxide, one of the gases that collect in the atmosphere, trap heat, and warm the planet. Trees are good for people too, with many positive psychological benefits. Being in the presence of swaying trees reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure and connects us to the natural environment. The soothing rhythmic motion of trees or even grass is not unlike that of mothers who instinctively use gentle swaying motion to comfort their babies. Did you ever notice that you feel better around trees or in a rocking chair?

“The symbolism – and the substantive significance – of planting a tree has universal power in every culture and every society on Earth, and it is a way for individual men, women and children to participate in creating solutions for the environmental crisis.”

Albert Arnold “Al” Gore, Jr.
45th Vice President of the United States
Author, environmental activist,
2007 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
(born March 31, 1948)

Trees are a generous gift from nature. Humans can be generous designers as well.

Generous Design by Humans

As I describe in, The Experience Design Blueprint, generous design makes people smile. When an organization exceeds expectations without any pressure to do so, people often take notice. It might mean going beyond what is required by law or code, or even the norm set by competitors. Often the thoughtfulness goes unnoticed, but the design still serves to make things a little easier or a little better.

When you experience generous design firsthand you think to yourself, “Wow, somebody thought of that. How nice!” But, more importantly, you feel that somebody cared and as a result they touched your heart and your mind. Generous design goes beyond expectations, like a dual drinking station for humans and canines alike or a stair rail that extends a little more than required, so that it comfortably greets those about to meet the stairs. Unexpected trees alongside the built environment can be generous gifts that restore the human spirit, cause us to slow down, and even provide healing. We see and feel these in urban areas, parks, boulevards, universities, and even healthcare facilities.

tree lined boulevard as generous design - Delightability

Arbor Day

Arbor Day is the day dedicated annually to public tree-planting in the U.S., Australia, and other countries around the world. You needn’t be an arborist or a landscape designer to plant a tree. Even birds (or other animals) inadvertently plant trees as they eat fruit in one area and defecate in another. Animals do this without even thinking. But, you are human, perhaps even superhuman. You can be a thoughtful, generous designer and plant a tree, if not for yourself for those who will enjoy it 100 years from now.

planting a pine tree

Culture of Care

Though Arbor Day provides you an official day to be thoughtful and generous, you needn’t be gated by such holidays. Opportunities for generous design are all around us. The best thing is you don’t have to be a designer by title or role – a bird isn’t, after all. You can participate at any time, in planting a tree or other thoughtful acts that exceed expectations and turn lips upward. The Culture of Care is afoot. If you’ve already joined – thank you! If not, we hope you’ll join our movement.

about the author

Gregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations.
image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Overcoming La La La I Can't Hear You

image of la la la la I can't hear you for blog post - delightability

Overcoming La La La I Can’t Hear You
In any organization (or society) there is an unlabeled group of people that hereafter we will call the “data prevention group.” Their prime motive is to protect the status quo. You know the type – not receptive to your show and tell, no matter how compelling it may be. Though these people may project a professional facade, what you really see is “La la la I can’t hear you.” The disregard for new information might come from a single influential person or it may come from a larger group, perhaps an entire herd. Whichever the case, the outcome is the same. It’s as though you are running the last segment of the Olympic torch relay, looking forward to the moment you touch torch to caldron, sparking the opening ceremony. Finally, your moment has come, you get to tell your story, share your data, and be listened to. But, your progress is halted and the ceremony never begins.

The data prevention group might be well intentioned in safeguarding the status quo. But, in a world that doesn’t sit still this can spell disaster for an organization. The business landscape and customer ecosystem are forever changing. People disregard the reality outside their organization at their own peril. Put simply, if you make soup people no longer purchase its best to find out why. Is it soup? Is it my soup? Crafty marketers might wish to simply refresh labels to shift perception. Maybe even have a soup “spokesperson” deliver messages and ensure others speak on point. But, in an increasingly transparent, connected, and humane world, those efforts will only produce short term gains, if at all.

Truth has a funny way of surfacing, even when you try to suppress it.

Truth has a funny way of surfacing, even when you try to suppress it. Some politicians and “leaders” on the wrong side of history have learned this lesson the hard way. Too many others have not and the list continues to grow, most recently with unsafe drinking water in Flint, Michigan.

The la la la treatment happens within organizations and in the broader community, even the online community. So, what do you do when if you are on the right side of history and too few are listening? Here are a few actionable ideas. If you have any to add, tweet this message and share your addition. Please do the same on Facebook or LinkedIn.

  1. Be critical of statements you hear that are untrue; offer relevant facts in their place
  2. Be supportive of data and facts over opinions and ideology; be vocal about this with the friends, colleagues, family and fellow citizens
  3. Build alliances around the truth, starting with common ground you agree on
  4. Wait for the moment when the data prevention group may be more receptive to hearing your message
  5. Give up, leave, check out (I don’t really recommend this one, but it is an option)
  6. Look for alignment by finding a new path, a campaign or another initiative you can hitch your data to; there may be a natural fit
  7. Build empathy by focusing on the people the data represents (make the audience come alive inside the organization or in the minds of others, whether the issue relates to social justice or the audience the organization serves)
  8. Make data more visual (Vision trumps all other senses as John Medina shares in his book, Brain Rules).
  9. Create soundbites from your data, at least initially to bait the hook. (You can feed the fish later with more data once you have gained the attention of the data prevention group)
  10. Build a story from your data that makes it easy for others to absorb and even retell
  11. Use humor and give people the opportunity to laugh (Thank you, Don Smith of FutureSmith, for this suggested addition)

Whether the data you promulgate represents a social justice issue or a shift in strategy within the organization, it is important to be mindful as opponents transition to becoming proponents. As Desmond Tutu says in his book by a similar title, “Without forgiveness, there’s no future.” You don’t want people to oppose a good idea whose time has come simply because they feel punished or demoralized in shifting their beliefs. So, take a page from the Chinese social playbook and allow others to preserve their dignity and avoid embarrassment (save face). This is increasingly important in the future where more and more people will shift away from harmful consumption and production patterns, behaviors that create conflict and marginalize people, and money stops corrupting politics. I wish you much luck in overcoming “la la la I can’t hear you” wherever your travels and conversations take you.

about the author

Gregory Olson is the author of The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.  As discussed in Chapter 8 of The Experience Design Blueprint, every organization has a Promise Delivery System. That is the invisible system by which an organization makes and keeps promises (or doesn’t). One component of the Promise Delivery System is Insights and Validation. Another is Apply Learning. When “La la la I can’t hear you” is alive and well inside an organization, the organization’s Promise Delivery System is breaking down – those two components in particular – stop working effectively. Left uncorrected the organization may end up building a lumpy snowball of an organization and lose relevance over time.

His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Ideas in L’ impossi preneurs that relate to this article include Truth Sculpture, Data Observatory, Propaganda for Good Network, Truth Machine Intelligence Service, Truth Ticker, and more.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.