Thursday, 19 April 2007

Living In The Age Of Spin

In the book '1984', George Orwell introduced us to the concept of 'Newspeak' - a language where everything was turned around. The Ministry of Peace was the Ministry of War and the Ministry of Truth simply told lies. I reflected this week on how prophetic this book was. In the UK, we now have hospitals that cause rather than treat illness (see Article) and we have a popular party that redistributes wealth away from the poor to the benefit of the rich (see Article). How could this have come about?

In many ways, this is the result of moving towards a post-Information Age society. In a very prescient book, Rolf Jensen of the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies introduced us to the idea of the Dream Society (we reviewed the book at In the Dream Society, appearance takes precedence over substance. It is not what we are that is important, it is what we appear to be. We prefer the exclusive to the ordinary because of what it says about us as individuals.

In the public services, a consequence of this is that services are now judged not by what they deliver, but by what they appear to deliver. This is why targets and key performance indicators are so important. They create an illusion of achievement and distract us from the unintended consequences of that achievement. For example, we have greater throughput to our hospitals, which creates the illusion of achievement. It is illusory because the cost of greater throughput is the development of strains of disease that medicine cannot cure. Hospitals now cause rather than treat illness.

Of course, there is a reaction against the world of spin. This is the world of 'authenticity' and 'originality'. However, it can be hard, at times, to discern the authentic from the apparently authentic. There is a tide moving against spin, but it has yet to achieve critical mass. When it does, we are likely to see a substantial change in the paradigm of organisations.

It is worth looking out for signs of this change.

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