I guess many of us have been reading recently about the rise of “post truth” politics. Post truth or post factual politics is defined by Wikipedia as “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.”
We have seen this approach used successfully in the U.K. Brexit campaign and the election of Donald Trump, where false claims were repeatedly made and repeated on both sides – even when it was clear they were not true.
The success of this has been attributed to a variety of factors including distrust of experts and elites, a funnel effect of following news sources that you already agree with via social media and the rise of false news.
All of these factors may be important; however the fact remains that senior political figures in 2 of the world’s largest economies have knowingly and deliberately based their campaigns on lies.
Senior Brexit figures were denying the figures that were the basis of their campaigns the morning after winning the vote. Trump’s team were unabashed the next day in rolling back from some of the crazier policies by saying these were “just campaign promises”. Apparently it’s expected that politicians will lie on campaign.
The fact checking organizations show that between a third and two thirds of statements made during Brexit and the US presidential election were untrue – on both sides. That is appalling.
So what lessons are we to take in business from this clear lead in politics? Are we now to have a “post truth” business environment, where we can make false claims about our products and services and deny them once customers have purchased them? Will we see the rolling back of customer protection legislation in the U.K. and USA on the basis “these were just marketing promises”?
How can businesses or the public trust politicians who deliberately ignore facts over emotions and lie at least one third of the time?
No CEO could (thankfully) survive saying a tenth of the things Trump has stated openly on his campaign trail. Imagine a business running a racist, sexist advert that made exaggerated false claims that were not fulfilled by their products? How long would they last?
Can you imagine a business leader who told lies one third of the time? Who would follow or ever believe them? We could not retain customers or talent in this world.
It’s clear that business cannot operate “post truth”; truth is the basis of the integrity and trust that is necessary to the functioning of a modern economy and organization.
However, regrettably, we may now need to learn to operate in a post truth political and social environment.
Maybe consumer protection regulations should be applied to political promises. After all it’s a much bigger decision, with more risk to leave the EU or elect a President than to buy a new pair of shoes.
Personally I don’t want to see post truth business (or politics – though it seems to be too late to stop this). I hope that the proponents of post truth will crash and burn under the weight of their lies and the unrealistic expectations they have raised.
In the meantime, those of us in business will have to live with the uncertainty and populist policies that will emerge from this style of politics. We will also, as always, end up paying for these policies whether we agree with them or not.
For those of us in business truth should remain the essential component of our business communication and leadership approach. Even though our political leaders may have abandoned truth and integrity, we cannot afford to.