Everledger CEO Leanne Kemp asks whether big business and policy makers are missing the right signals because they are tuned into the wrong frequencies. Could transparency-enabling technologies, such as blockchain, help to separate the facts from the white noise?
The nexus point of business change in the world is typically found in public-private partnerships or at the intersection of small business and government. Most business leaders and policy makers are therefore tuned into that frequency, scanning the airwaves for information that will influence their decisions.
But is this working? Are we currently innovating quickly enough to meet the challenges faced by society? The rapid onset of climate change, growing financial inequality and record lows in consumer trust suggest not. Perhaps our leaders need to break down the walls of their echo chamber. Rather than fix the dial on their favourite station – let’s call it Comfort FM – they need to scan for different channels where valuable conversations are taking place.
After all, what if that nexus point is already tipping? We risk a ‘dog whistle moment’ where our leaders don’t hear the high-pitched signal of alarm. The pace of change could stall instead of accelerate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed some stirring examples of CEOs who are listening to the social biorhythms and fast-tracking innovation to meet a critical, shared need. Supermarkets, engineering firms and perfumiers have attracted headlines for pivoting quickly to feed vulnerable communities, produce ventilators or face masks, or distil alcohol for hand sanitiser. The collective efforts of companies to embrace remote working, flexible hours for parents and make ‘bigger picture’ decisions offers an enticing snapshot of the future.
It’s true that necessity is the mother of invention, but how permanent will these sudden advances prove to be? Business survival has caused more reduction in climate change emissions over a few weeks than might have been possible in the next decade. Of course, it’s hard to find positives in the health and economic hardship of a pandemic, but this enforced hiatus may yet carry forward some clear lessons learned.
Trust is the bottom line
A more equitable, climate-conscious approach could bring companies onto the wavelength of new customers. Social currency is increasingly impacting the bottom line, as awareness and concern about stakeholder value reduces the primacy of shareholder profit. Global corporations such as VW, BP, Deutsche Bank and Facebook, to name a few, have demonstrated the damage caused by loss of trust – as well as the growing need to justify a social licence to operate.
In today’s connected world, trust is a language that all nations must speak fluently. The business drivers of trust and confidence were once notoriously difficult to measure. Now, we need only look at a company’s P&L. Consumers campaign for change with their wallets. Leaders therefore need to expand their bandwidth or risk missing out on crucial intelligence.
In the last five years alone, we’ve seen how quickly the context can change – whether it’s the #metoo movement, Trumpism, Brexit, or the emergence of Greta Thunberg and the rising youth. What will the legacy of the coronavirus outbreak be on global supply chains and national politics? It’s hard to imagine that transparency, traceability and trust won’t rise further up the agenda – and let’s hope they do so in the spirit of collaboration rather than suspicion.
We may live on a planet of 9 billion souls, but globalism and technology means it’s never been easier for a single individual to reach and impact the rest of humankind. The next five years offer huge opportunities for systems leaders to make an altruistic difference in the world. Technology start-ups have vast potential at their fingertips to influence our quality of life. Rather than tech unicorns, will we see the emergence of tech butterflies, who create a tornado of positive change with a single beat of their wings?
If we accept that connectivity is now integral to the way society functions, we can start to create a digital twin of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the base of the triangle sits WiFi as a basic human right, building up through the different roles that technology plays in safety, love, our sense of esteem and self-actualisation. The pandemic has double underlined the importance of internet access. For better or for worse, our physical and digital self are increasingly interwoven.
Darwinian theory can also receive a digital makeover. On a societal level, economic resilience used to reflect the number of people that nations could put to work eight hours a day, five days a week. Today, that resilience is increasingly built on digital capabilities and literacy. We’re at an evolutionary spike where ‘survival of the digitally strongest’ will decide our next steps forward as a species.
The question of ethics must therefore be at the forefront of every single discussion. Whether it’s artificial intelligence or blockchain, the decisions we take now will resonate for years, if not decades to come. Get it wrong, and future generations will condemn our irresponsibility. Get it right, and we can make our planet a fairer and more pleasant place to live. In the same way that waste is now swallowing the world, the repercussions of digital short-termism could prove catastrophic.
The challenge for leaders is to work out how to do business between the cracks of the different frequencies in communication, technologies and ethics. That’s where the consciousness of channel changing becomes so important. It’s not just leaders who need this awareness. As consumers and citizens, all of us can surely benefit from distinguishing the facts from the white noise. Our everyday lives are inundated by misinformation and dramatically fake news. The lines are blurred further by the input of internet companies, media outlets and the views of our myopic leaders.
To get closer to the truth, we first need to find a degree of cyber realism. If we can understand where things come from – if we can trace the different frequencies – then we’ll gain greater consciousness and therefore greater freedom about what we want to listen to and digest. Transparency can be a vaccination for the world’s current infodemic.
Tech for good
Blockchain technology is used to help industry supply chains to stream and share information in a secure and permanent way. Data is privately gathered from each stakeholder to the next, as objects are processed, until the customer can make a better-informed decision on their purchase by having increased awareness. This transparency has the power to turn linear supply chains into dynamic value chains where information becomes a valuable asset in its own right and a force for good.
Several blockchain solutions companies are actively involved in supporting international organizations like the World Economic Forum and the OECD to establish global best practice for the ethical use of blockchain. According to the World Bank, there are one billion people without an identity, which impedes their access to health and education. They are often denied the right to vote. As many as 1.7 billion people have no access to basic or affordable financial services.
Blockchain can help tackle this inequality. It is programmed to advance trust and altruism.
Could blockchain offer a new digital operating system that helps both leaders and citizens to access the frequencies they need to form a clear picture? Could this be the data infrastructure of the future that will help the world to stay tuned and retune on a constant basis?
While not a silver bullet, distributed ledger technology can be a valuable part of the solution, especially in emerging economies where financial exclusion is impeding growth and development, and where brands need to break silos and bring a better customer experience to the forefront.
Instead of opaque information beamed into our lives, we could stream the intelligence we want from trusted sources. We, the people, would choose the channels and control the airwaves. Those leaders who fail to hear the dog whistle would be left barking up the wrong tree.
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