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Fine Tuning Your Falsehood Detector: Time to update the models you use to screen for deception, dishonesty, corruption, fraud and falsity

This is part of a series providing insights aimed at corporate strategists seeking competitive advantage through better and more accurate decision-making. The full series is available at our special section on Decision Intelligence.  Members are also invited to discuss this topic at the OODA Member Forum.

The best business leaders are good at spotting falsehoods. Some joke and say they have a “bullshit detector”, but that humorous description does not do service to the way great leaders detect falsehoods. Bullshit is easy to detect. You see it and smell it and if you step in it it is your own fault. In the modern world falsehoods are far more nuanced.

Now more than ever, business and government leaders need to ensure their mental models for detecting falsehood are operating in peak condition.

The business information environment today includes more sources and feeds of data than ever. And in the case of every data source, whether the data is from internal or external sources, or from a paid service or open,  or from the government or academia, there are issues with data. All data can have unintentional mistakes in it. Some can be intentionally manipulated. Additionally, how that data is analyzed and acted upon can generate conclusions that are horribly wrong.

The same is true for the employees working in every organization today. Employees from the most junior to most senior are living in an information rich environment that is shaping perceptions and this can shape the way decisions are made on the job. Every employee in your organization is subject to disinformation and misinformation via a wide range of channels, including traditional media and press but also:

  • Email, voice and video that connects everyone everywhere.
  • Social media, including Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, which enables anyone to create and disseminate and consume any content.
  • New genres of information include podcasts, blogs, streaming video (YouTube), on demand entertainment (Netflix, AppleTV, Apple Music, Amazon video), on demand books (Kindle and ebooks).
  • Many video games can serve as communications media, including immersive video games using virtual reality and augmented reality.
  • Government and corporate information systems which enable instant broadcasting of messages to individuals. These are controlled by people who can be tricked into transmitting the wrong information or can simply screw up (reducing credibility while doing so).
  • Cable and broadcast TV is in just about every house and can even reach people on their mobile devices.

Now consider how malicious actors, including a spectrum from individuals, competitors, criminals and even nations are exploiting the new information environment. They are doing so for a variety of objectives and are doing this with access to a range of new tools to enable broad reach. New technologies being leveraged by adversaries to create and disseminate false information includes:

  • Internet-based communications technologies that enable anonymous action from a distance.
  • Machine learning algorithms that can extract information from massive quantities of data. These algorithms can be used for a variety of purposes including learning previously unknowable things about people, their behaviors, and deepest desires, all of which can aid adversaries seeking to manipulate cognition.
  • An Internet that is optimized to deliver information through ads to tailorable audiences across multiple devices and track who sees what.
  • Artificial Intelligence that can help create the right message to influence an audience, and then quickly re-tailor messages on the fly to improve desired outcomes.
  • Tools that can manipulate images, audio and sound to create deceptive messages, including creating entire events that never occurred. These tools are now so easy to use that amateurs are “face swapping” faces into videos of their choosing just for fun. These tools are being weaponized across video, text and audio.
  • Tools that can take entire sources of information offline through denial of service attacks.
  • Fragile security systems that can be penetrated remotely to enable planting of information or extraction of data for malicious use.

These new information paths and new technologies for creating and disseminating false information means that all of us need to continually improve our ability to spot and vet falsehoods.

Fine Tuning Your Falsehood Detector

The tips below flow from decades of service as a Naval Intelligence officer with a focus on all source intelligence analysis, as well as a study of cognitive science and cognitive bias. They are designed to provide a quick mental checklist that can empower any citizen, employee, corporate leader and government leader to spot falsehoods.

  1. Know your sources of data and analysis. Every data source has weaknesses that need to be understood. This is true for technical data sources and human data sources.
  2. Continually assess your sources of data and analysis. Is there bias in what is being collected or what is not being collected? Has the source been reliable over time? Is the source subject to political bias or corporate pressure?
  3. Avoid making big, irreversible decisions on a single source of data. The smart use of multiple sources of data and analytic rigor will help spot and mitigate falsehood from any one source.
  4. When data sources cannot be vetted, you may need to make assumptions. Avoid making irreversible decisions till you can confirm those assumptions.
  5. Fight bias in judgement by keeping your cognitive bias in check. The confirmation bias is frequently leveraged by fraudsters so is especially dangerous (see An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making).
  6. Organizations should use a team based approach to detecting falsehoods. Companies should build an environment where substantive and informed debate is welcomed. Groups can be deceived too, but by treating analysis as a team sport and capturing dissenting ideas many risks can be avoided.
  7. Individuals can also use a team based approach to detecting falsehoods, especially fraud, by seeking out reputable sources of insight. Inform your decisions by reviewing common fraud schemes reported by the FTC and law enforcement sources. Ask experienced friends and family their views (but be sure they have not fallen for misinformation/disinformation themselves- don’t ask your anti-vax cousin for Covid advice).
  8. Understand that well intentioned, good people can be deceived into believing something with all their heart and this may includes sources that have reliably reported in the past. Learn to be politely skeptical and ask questions about why a source thinks a certain way.
  9. Understand that the greatest, most well intentioned corporations, government agencies and institutions are also subject to bias and error. All organizations are fallible. In many cases is will be prudent to make planning assumptions that trust highly regarded institutions, but understand, all organizations make mistakes. If your falsehood detector is tuned to assume all large organizations are perfect it will result in potentially devastating errors.

Consider this short list as you think through how to optimize your corporate intelligence efforts. Also consider how you can help your employees improve their personal Falsehood Detector. Doing so can help their on the job performance and mitigate several threats continually attacking their personal information environment.

Additional Reading from our Intelligent Enterprise Series:

A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence

Organizations in competitive environments should continually look for ways to gain advantage over their competitors. The ability of a business to learn and translate that learning into action, at speeds faster than others, is one of the most important competitive advantages you can have. This fact of business life is why the model of success in Air to Air combat articulated by former Air Force fighter pilot John Boyd, the Observe – Orient – Decide – Act (OODA) decision loop, is so relevant in business decision-making today.

In this business model, decisions are based on observations of dynamic situations tempered with business context to drive decisions and actions. These actions should change the situation meaning new observations and new decisions and actions will follow. This all underscores the need for a good corporate intelligence program. See: A Practitioner’s View of Corporate Intelligence

Optimizing Corporate Intelligence

This post dives into actionable recommendation on ways to optimize a corporate intelligence effort. It is based on a career serving large scale analytical efforts in the US Intelligence Community and in applying principles of intelligence in corporate America. See: Optimizing Corporate Intelligence

Mental Models For Leadership In The Modern Age

The study of mental models can improve your ability to make decisions and improve business outcomes. This post reviews the mental models we recommend all business and government decision makers master, especially those who must succeed in competitive environments. See: Mental Models for Leadership In The Modern Age

An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making

Cognitive Bias and the errors in judgement they produce are seen in every aspect of human decision-making, including in the business world. Companies that have a better understanding of these cognitive biases can optimize decision making at all levels of the organization, leading to better performance in the market. Companies that ignore the impact these biases have on corporate decision-making put themselves at unnecessary risk. This post by OODA Co-Founder Bob Gourley provides personal insights into key biases as well as mitigation strategies you can put in place right now. See: An Executive’s Guide To Cognitive Bias in Decision Making

OODA On Corporate Intelligence In The New Age

We strongly encourage every company, large or small, to set aside dedicated time to focus on ways to improve your ability to understand the nature of the significantly changed risk environment we are all operating in today, and then assess how your organizational thinking should change. As an aid to assessing your corporate sensemaking abilities, this post summarizes OODA’s research and analysis into optimizing corporate intelligence for the modern age. See: OODA On Corporate Intelligence In The New Age

Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence

This post discusses standards in intelligence, a topic that can improve the quality of all corporate intelligence efforts and do so while reducing ambiguity in the information used to drive decisions and enhancing the ability of corporations to defend their most critical information. See: Useful Standards For Corporate Intelligence

In Business, Like In War, Data Is A Weapon

Broadly speaking, a weapon is anything that provides an advantage over an adversary. In this context, data is, and always has been, a weapon. This post, part of our Intelligent Enterprise series, focuses on how to take more proactive action in use of data as a weapon. See: Data is a Weapon

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of OODA LLC, the technology research and advisory firm with a focus on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity which publishes Bob is the co-host of the popular podcast The OODAcast. Bob has been an advisor to dozens of successful high tech startups and has conducted enterprise cybersecurity assessments for businesses in multiple sectors of the economy. He was a career Naval Intelligence Officer and is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Find Bob on Defcon.Social