The Post-Truth World: Why Haven’t We Had Enough Experts?

We are living in a post-truth world, where alternative facts and fake news compete on an equal footing with peer-reviewed research and formerly-authoritative sources such as the United Kingdom’s global news and current affairs service, the BBC.

What is the reason for this? While many people attribute this to the rise of the smartphone and Internet, it is not the entire story. While technology has certainly contributed to the problem, the fundamental social trend that is evident here dates back before the advent of the internet, however. People also blame well-known truth-challenged people, but it is important to not confuse cause and effect. Trump’s disdain for expert advice is what spawned the Trump phenomenon, not vice versa.

Many long-cycle trends have influenced how we perceive the world. This is what has led to the post-truth era. The phenomenon has even been given the name , agnotology. This is the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt. It comes in many flavors: from the benign (persuading people using’spin’ or selectively using facts) to the malicious (willful peddling objectively incorrect information). Agnotology has huge implications for politics and business.

Two long-cycle trends shape our understanding about the world.

First, we all are becoming more stupid, but only on a relative basis. Individual knowledge, measured by IQ, has been increasing slowly and linearly over recent decades (the Flynn effect). However, the collective knowledge of mankind is growing exponentially — think about the rapid growth in books, patents registered, and PhDs completed. The gap between what we know and what the rest of the world knows is expanding rapidly.

The second is that the business and political worlds are becoming increasingly interdependent. This means that anything happening in one area can have unpredicted consequences in another. Cyber-attacks and terrorist threats, as well as outbreaks of infectious disease, terrorist threats, political movements, and social memes are all manifestations of the “complex” system that is the global economic system. Complex systems are difficult to model accurately. This paradox is the paradox of our time: The more complex systems we connect, the more difficult it is to predict.

These two points are combined: As individuals, we struggle to understand the past and find it increasingly difficult to predict the future. Cognitive dissonance is the result. We are thoughtful beings and want to control things, but we find it increasingly difficult. How can we overcome this dissonance? We rely on our intuition and belief

Jonathan Haidt, a New York University professor, explains the point in these words. It would be nice to believe that reasoning and analysis are used to arrive at a decision. For example, we might look at the evidence regarding the dangers of genetically engineered crops and decide whether to ban them. We do the opposite. We arrive at an intuition-based judgement early on, often subconsciously, and then use that to create a convincing argument for our view. This is usually done by gathering supporting evidence and disregarding evidence that could lead us in a different direction.

This is a frightening point. Human nature is to quickly jump to conclusions, often based on the simplest facts. However, paradoxically, the more complicated and uncertain an issue is, the more trust we have in our intuition. When asked if you support the installation of traffic lights at busy intersections near your home, you will quickly consider the pros and cons before reaching a conclusion. When you ask whether you support the European Union leaving, your reasoning-based brain shuts down and your intuitive part takes control.

Although this tendency to jump to judgment is not new, it has grown to be a problem as people become more (relatively speaking) ignorant and less able see the future. The problem is made worse by technology, as our Twitter and Facebook feeds create an echo chamber of judgments that often lack facts. Smart politicians will exploit this trend and tap into our intuitions and subconscious beliefs rather than bore us with hard evidence. In the art of persuasion , emotion beats logic. This was a point that both the Trump campaign and Brexiteers understood well.

What does this all mean for businesspeople?

* Understanding your biases can help you to recognize your tendency to jump to intuitive conclusions . This is already a big step forward. The next time you feel a strong intuition about a course of action (e.g. a new slogan for your brand), take a step back and ask yourself: What does the hard data tell us? Is there any evidence to support your belief? What is your prior experience that influenced you to choose this slogan? Why is it that a trusted colleague has a different intuition than you? Although this type of introspective exercise is unlikely to lead to a change in your mind, it can help you get to know yourself better and make you more useful next time.

* Perspective taking – Seeing the world from another’s vantage point – is another helpful trick. To see the pro-Trump narrative unfolding, I regularly checked out Fox News or Breitbart during the Presidential election. It is important to be able to step out of your comfort zone – and talk to people who aren’t interested in your product -. This is a good way to stay healthy.

Remember that your most valuable resource, not your time, is your attention. Be selective in the information –, especially the reassuring, comfortable type –, you choose to consume, and don’t let it stream in real-time.

There are additional things to consider if you are a leader in an executive position.

* We live in a world full of fake news. However, we have a moral responsibility and a practical obligation to keep the facts straight. You shouldn’t be afraid of tapping into your customers and employees intuition. This is the essence and essence of marketing. It should also be the core of corporate communications. People seek authentic leaders. A spontaneous speech from the heart beats any written script every single time.

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