Years ago, 2011, when we had ‘the riots’ in the streets of London, The Guardian had a tracking system for rumours based on tweeter analytics. The graphics that they produced were marvellous. You could see the progression of rumours, the map bubbles getting bigger, reaching a peak and then fading. One of the most interesting ones was ‘the military is now in the South Bank (of the river Thames)’. Of course, the military were never close to the river, or to any street for that matter, but the rumour had its own life cycle and transient fame.
I have thought many times that it would be great to have a similar system to track rumours inside the organization. I’d love to know how they start, how they spread and how they disappear. Rumours and second-guessing, partial truth or not truths at all, are often unmanageable. Until they are called out.
This type of information currency is inevitable. It spreads well because it appeals to emotions such as fear and anticipation. From divisions that we may shut down, to people who will be fired, to markets we are going to exit, all finds their way through the pipes.
Very often is as if people (leaders) start a sentence, they don’t finish it and then the rest of the population write a novel.
Rumours have in common with the automatic ’finishing of the sentence with a full novel’ that they both belong to the rich territory of un-critical thinking. Years ago, when I was working in the pharmaceutical industry, I remember well the situation when a kind-of-wild senior leader in R&D mentioned in the corridor the idea of a drug comparison with a competitor. That triggered one of the most expensive clinical trials I have ever seen and nobody wanted. Automatic pilot and ‘appeal to authority’ work extreme well together.
One of my old rules of thumb in this area is ‘go to source’. If you are really interested in the truth, bite the bullet and find the source, not the chain.
Gossip is inevitable, but you can’t run an organization with half-truth, guesses and half-baked stories
There is no alternative to finding the truth yourself. Otherwise, who knows, the tanks may be in your South Bank soon. And then…