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Inevitably alternative facts

Facts become conveyable through language, signs and numbers. The oldest signs were painted on the walls of Stone Age caves forty thousand years ago. We cannot determine to what extent the meaning of those days has survived in our cultural memory. Due to the lack of reference books, the meaning of ancient signs (e.g. an upside-down triangle s) remains incomprehensible to us, even though graffiti is a tangible fact that everyone can see. Nowadays, the sign has various interpretations depending on the subject area: in alchemy it represents water; in meteorology it represents rain; for hobos it indicates that too many people have already been there and there is nothing left to get; in mathematics it symbolizes the Nabla operator; in street traffic it represents give priority; in the broadest sense it also stands for femininity. What gives us the certainty that nowadays facts have only one meaning – for example, if the temperature increase of the last thirty years is not perceived as threatening? Are words and numbers more meaningful than simple signs – for example, when we meet at the bank? And if there is no universal meaning, what does that make of the conjured facts – alternative facts?

When looking at the production of facts, many influencing factors become apparent which can lead to a distortion of meaning.

  • The perspectives on the facts
    Your own location determines the look at circumstances. You can view the situation at eye level, from a bird’s or frog’s eye view. The angle becomes narrower and loses sight of the whole as soon as you get closer to details. The range of vision expands and lets subtleties disappear when you get an overview. The time perspectives also convey different views. In retrospect, the number of facts and findings are more comprehensive and conclusive as if only currently available sources are used – not to mention when premonitions about the future are formulated.
    These few examples and the different positions of the viewers should make clear to everyone that the accumulated data will always be different. Despite several reliable sources and the examination of the statements in fact-checks, it is never possible to reach a sufficiently reliable conclusion as to whether or not a false report has been made. This means that somebody who doesn’t like the news can simply declare them fake news.
  • The hunter-gatherer of facts
    The collection of facts is influenced by the character of the reporter. Different experiences, abilities and convictions filter their perception. This is mainly due to the fact that observers of a situation can only notice things that they already know or can be put into words and images. This results in an unconscious selection of documents, which in turn creates a tendentious picture. As long as others report in a same way, it seems to be factual, although the amount of similar statements does not allow any conclusions, whether the reports are true.
    The observers’ world view unintentionally acts as a filter for the data accrued. This is how the technician prefers to see plants, machines and other technical matters. The philanthropist observes the people in their environment. And both will provide facts about the situation, which lead to different conclusions.
  • The interest-driven facts
    The impact of hunters and gatherers is intensified, if only those facts are consciously collected, which confirm their own world view. This usually happens with ideologically biased reporters – whether they are left, right or centered. As an extreme example, we look at the conspiracy theorists who provide spectacular news in the otherwise pale information jungle. A well-known example is the allegedly faked moon landing, which was staged only to win the race to the moon or to distract from the Vietnam War.
    These kinds of facts arise in all subject areas: Politics, science, economy etc. Here, overarching interests determine which news get into the media. A crude, albeit effective, attempt to twist facts is the prophylactic contradiction that tries to fend off a foreseeable accusation by accusing in advance opponents of spreading fake news. Whoever screams loudest wins the sympathy of the masses, although they suffer at the end a disadvantage – a good example is the propaganda of the screaming Brexiteers, who only bring disadvantages to Britain’s.
  • The quality of the facts
    In the end, facts are data that have a certain quality. In addition to showing the respective perspective and the origin of the observers, there are quality criteria that should be fulfilled: comprehensibility, correctness, completeness, coherence, topicality, etc. There is often room for interpretation: for example, the degree of freedom of elections or the assessment of assassinations by state bodies. The correctness of a statement should be critically questioned (especially, if serious contradictions arise). The completeness of a message is difficult to detect (for example, if different views are not reported). Inconsistencies are easier to spot because the audience can find them (if one thing is reported on one day and something contrary on the other). It is also increasingly easier to check the up-to-dateness (for example, if old images are used in a new context or obviously are manipulated).
    It has become common practice to pretend that the news quality can be checked by carrying out factual checks later. However, since they are based on the criteria used so far, they only provide confirmation of an interest-driven view.

Bottom line: Actually, we seem to have no more opportunities to get closer to reality. As a result, we move within our own filter bubble, which repeatedly confirms our own convictions. However, this article is intended to show that alternative facts are the very nature of things. The struggle for the one truth is pointless, since there is no such state. For this reason, we must be more sensitive to this objectivity and consciously deal with the available news. As soon as a report is filled with emotional statements (e.g. stigma words) and a corresponding intonation, all warning lights should go on (see e.g. this German television report). If this stops the faithful onward surge of lemmings, which blindly trust the demagogues and they no longer thoughtlessly follow the populists, then it would have been worthwhile to look at the inevitably alternative facts.

Digital business model check in the face of Corona

In business life, small, medium, and large companies are always dealing with all kinds of changes. The invisible mutations appear here only in retrospect. Regular overhauls require the new processes. Technical novelties force upgrades and extensive changeovers. Everything takes place in a global context, which is difficult due to political borders.

Now COVID-19 shows that the effects of a pandemic are not just a viral threat. Global travel routes spread infections at blazing speed. However, nobody expected that the culture of mass sporting, cultural, and tourist events would lead to Superspreadings.

So far, risk analysis classified pandemics as an unlikely health threat. The indirect consequences for the economy and society were not on the radar screen. Now it becomes apparent that countries and even regions are closing their borders for fear of infection. Global mobility is collapsing. Logistics chains move only essential goods. Allowed are the systemically relevant industries – health and medical, water and energy suppliers, waste management companies, food manufacturers and distributors, logistics and storage companies, information, and communication services.

Anyone talking about a return to growth is misjudging the situation. It is now a matter of survival as a world, country, company, family, and human being. In the context of social distancing, it is time for companies to examine the digital change readiness.

The Business Model Canvas provides a helpful structure. Let us take a closer look at the individual fields.

  • Customer segments
    Regions with poor Internet connectivity have little digital opportunities – e.g., simple smartphone apps. if possible, that require small bandwidth. Some customers depend on mainframe systems from the last millennium – the low level of cloud usage and interconnectedness requires support when switching to the 21st Companies that keep their IT state-of-the-art need powerful interfaces for their offerings – e.g., cloud-based touchpoints as well as increased use of multi-media, and mobile services. To be able to select the most potent measures, customers should be sorted according to their significance and digital affinity.
  • Value proposition
    With the eyes of the customers, you can take a look at your offers. Which ones are already or can be easily digitized? Looking at it is mainly about the services that have been offered so far through personal contact. There are many different ways to deliver a service via the Internet – e.g., a visual hotline, video chats, webinars, or virtual publications. Determine the advantages that arise for customers and check whether you can provide these services economically. Eventually, describe and communicate your value proposition to current customers. Do not forget to show your new offers on the Internet to those who are not yet your customers.
  • Channels
    Personal contact must be spread over a larger area due to the distance rules. The regulations make digital channels more interesting. After almost thirty years of the Internet, it is time to deal with them. Those who have already established channels have an advantage – starting with offline media such as videos and PDFs and moving on to web-based ones such as e-mail, websites, blogs, chats, forums, and the like. The question is, what should be expanded or used more intensively. It is also a question of identifying and introducing new opportunities – including the economic aspects (see below).
  • Customer relations
    Services that can be digitized range from personalized support, to help for DIY with appropriate digital learning packages, to the creation of communities with mutual help. You should ask yourself: What kinds of digitization do the customer segments expect? Which digital interfaces have we already established? What digital touchpoints exist? How much do digital relationships cost?
  • Income sources
    Digitization is not available for free. Therefore, the questions on the income side should be answered. What digital benefits are the customer willing to pay? Which digital offers are already paid for by the customer? Which digital payment procedures have already been introduced? Which digital payment methods do the customer want? What proportion can digital services achieve? Do not let yourself be dazzled by apparently free offers. You just have not recognized the costs yet. Unfortunately, this perspective results also in customers being unwilling to pay for digital services. Clarify your revenue model and underline the advantages of your offer – e.g., no use of data by third parties, data security, hosting in a safe country.
  • Core activities
    You need a clear understanding of what you require in order to deliver digital services – to render your value proposition, in your distribution channels, in your customer relationships, and for your digital revenue streams. The entire value creation process is involved – development, production, sales, after-sales, and all cross-sectional tasks. Digitization accelerates all activities, as the boundaries between the areas affected are reduced to a single click, towards suppliers and customers, and geographically. Just think of logistics systems that handle the management of freight through automated agents – the container searches for its route, books the necessary freight space, and reliably arrives at the port of destination as soon as possible.
  • Core resources
    Your current resources have the capabilities that your old business model required. Digitization needs new skills – e.g., handling the laptop/ smartphone/ IPAD/ computer, mastering all kinds of software, as well as telepresence in video conferencing. It is not enough to provide the appropriate programs. The employees AND managers need proper introduction/training. People are the eye of the needle through which the elephant must pass. Besides, you need the appropriate hardware and software, access to the Internet wherever you are. At the same time, existing office space can be used for other purposes. The crucial resource is the money to procure the means – and this at a time when sales are declining.
  • Core partners
    The idea that the IT sector is predestined for digitization may be right, but it ignores the actual tasks that are currently being carried out. Furthermore, the predominant work consists of operating the running systems and solving problems. You need new partners and suppliers. Who are the main digitization partners? Who are the main digitization suppliers? Which digitization resources come from whom? You should consider that after Corona, these partners will remain part of your extended enterprise.
  • Cost structure
    The most critical point at last. What costs are incurred as a result of digitization? How are the digitization costs distributed? What costs do digital activities generate? Many people believe that you can run your business with the many free tools from the Internet. Considering the implementation and personnel costs, this is not advisable as these free tools have limited possibilities, which in turn generate exceeding personnel costs – up to the point of shutting down the provider of such a product if the users do not contribute to their efforts. Since budgets are no longer covered by sales anyway, it is crucial to plan the business model holistically, i.e., to concentrate on the revenue generators – and nothing else.

Bottom line: In Paris, a star cook had to close her restaurant due to Corona, while costs continued to run. She quickly adapted her business model. In the beginning, she sold homemade cookies and discovered that customers appreciated this new business. Now she offers goods from the region. This kind of flexibility and decisiveness is required today. By reviewing your business model concerning new digital services (see above), you can adapt your business. After Corona will not be comparable to the past.