Without connecting monitoring of our programs with our principles and strategy, we are simply creating impotency in our organizations.
The events of January 6th, 2021 at the United States Capitol were appalling to anyone who cares about that republic, democracy, and decency. While a mob incited by the sitting president stormed the building and forced out democratically elected lawmakers before they could complete their procedural duty, it invoked a thought of the many failures that contributed to it.
The list of failures on that day are too many to list, but the one that stuck out was the role of social media. In the wake of the event — which included a video posted by the president adding more ‘fuel’ to the fire and expressing compassion for the mob — Facebook (and Instagram), Twitter, and Snapchat all banned him from their platforms (even if temporarily). These are platforms that have provided a voice and means of organizing for someone who has consistently, repeatedly, and predictably violated the terms of service with his words and actions. For years he has told outright lies and led many to believe things that were either misleading or wrong, yet often harmful.
What this represented was a failure of monitoring, principles and strategy.
This is the ongoing data gathering that tracks activities and events. It’s a common tool in evaluation and helps us to take the ongoing temperature of a situation. Any cross-section of data that you pulled from a segment of the president’s tweets is likely to find examples where he misled or lied about something important or affecting the health of the nation, or attacked another person. The world was effectively monitoring this account, yet Twitter did little. Only into his final months of his term did Twitter seek to put any form of public service announcements on his tweets.
Twitter wasn’t doing its job. In a cynical sense, it’s easy to see why (they made money from this). What failed was that the US government and its various branches tied to keeping Americans safe – -including Congress — wasn’t monitoring things. They thought all of those messages were harmless at worse or just noise at best. They were proven wrong.
Google dropped its ridiculous credo of ‘do no evil’ a few years ago. It was a principle it simply wouldn’t seek to live up to – and probably never did if we’re going to be honest about them. Principles are evaluable guides for programs and policies to help us navigate complex situations where there may not be an obvious clear path forward. A principle, well-written and thought through, provides the guidance when we don’t have the data or stability to fully understand what’s happening, yet need to decide on where to go.
Michael Quinn Patton’s GUIDE framework provides specific criteria for what makes a good principle.
Facebook, Twitter, and the other platforms gave up on their principles with this president. While they wanted to make information available to people without much interference, what was generated wasn’t information: it was noise. It was harmful noise. When chaos is generated from a situation, the key is to create coherence through action and then reflection afterward. The sitting president didn’t create meaningful coherence — no matter what you believe about his policies — he created chaos. There was no plan outside of retaining power.
Without a plan driven by data and feedback, there is no strategy. Social media dropped the ball. They realized that the culmination of small acts and words done over time has cumulative effects.
Why this matters is that in our organizations we all have these small things. Maybe it’s a complaint from your customers. Maybe it’s a joke that everyone makes about how boring meetings are. What if it was a shared narrative that ‘professional development days’ are simply a waste of time? These are the kinds of data that, if we are monitoring things, we pick up. If we have principles that aren’t aligned with this feedback, we need to make changes. Strategy is how we do it.
This week was a horrible lesson in so many things, but one of them is the power of small comments to lead to bigger events. It doesn’t have to be a capitol-storming event that emerges from this, but it can be used as a sign for what your own crisis might be.