This month’s blog and newsletters topic is “unintended consequences.” When a company reacts to events in the environment or the marketplace without examining those events for themselves, that reaction can have consequences. The usual excuse for them is, “We didn’t intend those consequences—they were unintended.”

A leader’s job is, of course, to avoid such consequences. This is done through a leader’s primary function: analysis, prediction and planning. The first of these is analysis.


Proper Analysis

In a previous newsletter, we discussed data authentication from two sources. One source is often woefully inadequate because it can be based on bias or it might even be entirely manufactured.

An example of wholly fabricated information is the “news” that, in 1898, prompted the United States into the Spanish-American war, a revolution in Cuba intended to free the country from Spain’s domination. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst owned the New York Journal, was in fierce competition to make it the leading publication in the U.S., and greatly exaggerated coverage of the revolution. At one point, Hearst sent illustrator Frederick Remington to Cuba to cover the conflict. Once on the ground in Cuba, Remington cabled Hearst to report that no war was actually taking place, that there was “no war to cover.” Hearst famously replied, “You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war.” The resulting reports and pictures in the New York Journal enraged the U.S. public into demanding action, forcing the country into the Spanish-American war.

The event that finally pushed the U.S. into armed participation in the conflict was the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. In an effort to sell papers, Hearst and other newspaper publishers of the day laid blame for the disaster on Spain—when, in fact, the real cause of the ship’s sinking was never uncovered. To this day, there are conflicting opinions of what caused the ship’s forward magazines (the ammunition storage area aboard a warship) to explode which resulted in the ship’s sinking.

If someone had applied proper analysis to the situation at the time, the U.S. might never have involved itself in this costly conflict.


The Right Data—The Right Direction

Only by acting on correct data can any organization, whether a government or a company, predict and plan successfully.

The most important information for a company is about its own market. What are people or businesses purchasing? Why? Where is the market headed?

There are market research organizations and media channels that report the news for all different markets, as well as general business news, and companies tend to rely on this news. The problem is that a business accessing this data and acting on it cannot view the raw data on which a report is based, so they have no idea of its accuracy. Unless a company can verify information, it is always risky to base any decision on it.

Again, a report or news should be verified by accessing a completely independent source. Just as in today’s computer security, apply two-source verification to all reports.


Look For Yourself

The fundamental principle underlying this approach to analysis is “look for yourself.” It is far too common today for people to rely on secondhand information instead of simply looking for themselves.

Make it a hard-and-fast rule for company leadership to look for themselves, and make sure to verify any information to be used for prediction and planning.

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