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Views from the Prairie

October 2023

Taking a Stand on Social Issues

Between wars, social strife, claims of climate change, and even whether to vaccinate, many people want businesses to take a stand on many different issues. We have to be very careful about what issues to take a stand on. Taking a stand on social issues is likely to divide our customers and we need to be careful to take a stand at the right time and for the right reasons. It is vital to identify which issues fit our values and which stands even need to be communicated to the outside world.

People who grew up reading that "with great power comes great responsibility" are demanding businesses use their great power for good. We have to judge which stand better fits our values and which stand supports more of our customers. Taking a stand on social issues will always affect sales and thus, needs to be carefully thought through.

We can take a stand without broadcasting our position to the world. It is far better to take a stand in private, act in accordance with that stand, and gain the benefits than it is to broadcast a stand and not follow through with it.

In many cases, taking a stand on a social issue has a positive impact on the business. When we take a stand that fits our values, builds up the community, and provides more hope to our workers, such a stand tends to pull the company and the community together in positive ways. The process we use to figure out what stand to take and which stand we choose demonstrates our values to the world. We purposefully and strategically align the stand with our relevant business concerns. Taking a stand in that way often results in a competitive advantage.

When events conspire to force us to look at an issue, we can ask first "where does this issue fit with our business strategy? Speaking out on an issue when the company doesn't have a strategic interest in that issue often gets perceived as some kind of "washing" to tag along on the hard work that other people are doing.

A second question is: "are we willing to back up the stand with meaningful action?" A stand without action is often meaningless and is perceived by others as "just another corporate pronouncement." Before issuing any stand on a social issue, figure out first what measurable actions will be taken to back up that stand. A vaguely worded statement and no action behind it is worse than no statement at all.

Any change or taking a stance is threatening to some people and they will push back. America has always had those who would push back violently. Most times, such pushback has come from solitary individuals. In today's social media connected world, individuals can get a wider audience to join them in their pushback.

In planning on how to handle the pushback, remember that lies spread far faster than the truth. Our planning needs to include persistence in stating not just our stance, but our strategic and corporate reasons for such a stance.

Both taking a stance or not taking one are risks. Let's take stances that match our values and our strategy.

AI Hallucinations

The lawyer, Steven A. Schwartz, used ChatGPT to pull together his filings for a federal court in Manhattan. Unfortunately, the filing contained six cases that did not exist. ChatGPT made them up. Two researchers asked ChatGPT to write a paragraph on osteoporosis and to further explain what it wrote. It provided five references. Yet, none of those papers existed. Artificial Intelligence (AI) "hallucinates." It makes up data.

The people who made ChatGPT,, say that it is accurate only 80% of the time and in some cases, is far worse than that (in some cases, only 30% accurate). All it does is to give back what is a most statistically probable set of words.

There is good reason for the hype around Artificial Intelligence. It helps generate first drafts of articles, good fake pictures, and seems to give good answers to questions. In writing circles, people give a lot of hope to when AI will be able to run things. But giving AI control at this point would be like letting a pilot take off with an airliner while on an LSD trip.

These hallucinations are deeply related to how the AI model was constructed. ChatGPT is a "large language model" that uses the input prompt to build a most probable answer structure and then find words that statistically match a probability within that answer structure. While this process is a great way to "brainstorm ideas" and to find new creative concepts, it is terrible at finding truth.

The executives behind ChatGPT believe that they can correct the problems and find ways to prevent the hallucinations. Other researchers are far less confident. Many researchers say that it isn't enough to have statistical word choices, we need something that can detect truth and prevent the fake.

Risky World

It helps to read from history. Those who don't want history taught want to take advantage of others. Here are some quotes from Cicero, a Roman philosopher. "Never was a government that was not composed of liars, malefactors, and thieves." One common mistake is "attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do." "The closer to collapse [.], the crazier the laws."


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