Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving The Crises of Expertise and Belief: Sample Chapter

The Crises of Expertise and Belief: Sample Chapter

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The Sandy Hook families are currently, at time of writing, pursuing legal damages against Alex Jones. It is apparent that Jones did not actually believe that the shooting was staged (effectively he has admitted as such), but rather apparently promoted this conspiracy to attract listeners and viewers to his extreme right wing Infowars media platform.

The Sandy Hook families have claimed that his conspiracy theories were part of a “profit-driven campaign”. Jones now claims that he no longer believes the shooting was staged. This is an example of Machiavellian influencers who foster conspiracy theories amongst their gullible followers, who then believe them without question or logical consideration. The Machiavellian leader then causes serious harm to out-groups.

Conspiracy theories also cause damage by casting doubt on information provided by experts and leaders. These leaders, experts (and scientists) are portrayed as being “baffled” at best— fraudulent and malicious at worst. They foster division between groups and the leaders and experts in these groups. These beliefs can be harmful, even fatal, when groups of people rush down the “rabbit-hole” of myopic belief. Increasingly, those who foster conspiracy theories that cause damage are being treated as criminals—whether they are the perpetrators of violence at the Capital on January 6 or those who perpetrate conspiracy theories for personal gain.

The organizational damage of conspiracy theories (and gossiping)

Everything we have described about conspiracy theories to this point has been in the context of a country or society. However, anyone who has worked in a large organization has likely experienced the damage caused by another form of misinformation and conspiracy. This has to do with the informal and powerful network of communication that is engaged by those without formal power.

In her insight-filled account of women working in 1970’s organizations, Rosabeth Kanter (1977) identifies the gossip network in most organizations as being the primary way in which women working as secretaries and clerks communicate with one another. Furthermore, these women (without much formal power) often could influence their bosses (most often men who do hold formal power), by having access to this gossip network (which often contains information that is not meant for public consumption).

The face-to-face gossip network of the 1970s has been replaced in recent years by the digital network–and by the departure of secretaries and clerks. However, there is still a powerful network operating in most organizations that provide the powerless members of the organization with some influence and feelings of involvement. This network might even help keep an organization agile and responsive to fast-changing conditions. We find in many developmental analyses of communities, that “natural networks” often help those living in the community to receive and deliver help, while also obtaining the “true” information needed for the delivery or reception of support.

There is the other, darker side of the gossip network. It can contribute to the formation of intra-organizational conspiracies. It seems that gossiping has many of the hallmarks and origins of conspiracy theories—and as a result can have damaging results. Indeed, as business consultants, both of us have experienced the damaging effects of “conspiratorial gossiping” in workplace environments.

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