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Blogging and Ground Truths

Shoe A few weeks ago, I was at a conference with Christine Martell for the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR). At the opening keynote presentation, Mitch Hammer, a man with years of experience in negotiating hostage crises, talked about what he called "ground truths."

Ground truth is a term from cartography. Apparently you have maps--representations of reality--and then you have ground truths--what's really happening on the ground. Metaphorically and put another way, maps are the Emperor and "ground truths" are the people saying that he's wearing no clothes.

That metaphor has stuck with me and I've been doing a lot of thinking about how technology may actually better help us facilitate conversations about ground truths.  I think that social media, like blogs, create a "safe space" in which to talk about ideas, concepts and feelings that we may feel less comfortable discussing in the real world. For the same reason that I can say things in a letter or journal entry that I might not want to say face-to-face, blogs give me a place to express myself more honestly than I might in "real-life." And because of the two-way nature of this medium, we can engage in more authentic conversations. Maybe.

This could be especially useful for people who already feel disenfranchised and without a voice. They are often the people most painfully aware of the ground truths in life and who live most often in the shadow of  denial about what's really going on. They are the ones who know that the Emperor is naked and I think that blogs can provide a place for them to point that out and have others validate that reality. Look at what these people are doing with the power of social media. Talk about ground truth.

On a very practical level, social media is changing how we get our news--it's more raw and immediate,  In his post,  Three Untapped Values of Social Networks, Chris Brogan talks about how social networking has improved the speed of information. He points to how Twitter spread news about the San Diego fires more effectively and accurately than the regular news media and how reporters were  filing stories using Blogger blogs. This is news in its rawest form, provided unfiltered and un-edited, part of the appeal of blogging to me. Or at least certain kinds of blogging. And that's how you get closer to ground truths, when information moves from the ground to us immediately with little to censor it in its journey.

It's this ground truth approach that permeates the best blogging, I think. It's really another form of the radical transparency I've blogged about before. Mitch's point is that these ground truths lead us to more authentic dialog, which, in turn leads us to the root of things.

Right now I'm working with a client intent on fixing only the surface of their organization. One of their major problems is that managers will not tell top leadership the ground truths. They try to hide and obfuscate and look the other way and this has become part of their culture. Ultimately this unwillingness to deal with ground truths is going to cost them millions of dollars and may lead to their demise. If they'd had a culture that used blogging and other social media however, things might not have gotten this bad. It's hard to hide once social media has you on the radar and most of the time I think that's a good thing. Certainly in their case it would have been best. What was really going on in the organization would have come to light much sooner. Problems could have been solved and dealt with before they ate everything away. At least that's how it appears to me.

The potential for telling and talking about ground truths is probably one of the biggest reasons I blog. Ground truths attract me to other blogger's posts and when I can talk about them myself, they are usually my own best posts, generating the most dialog and discussion. When we use our blogs to share our ground truths, that's when we're making the most of this medium, turning it into something bigger and better than a simple self-publishing tool. It's through blogging about ground truths that we can talk outside the system to build awareness and understanding and trust. This is how we make a movement. 


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I too have thought a lot about the concept of ground truth since hearing Mitch speak. I still find myself more willing to speak to ground truth than to write it on my blogs. I suspect most people who know me would characterize me as someone who speaks out, perhaps too much at times. Yet, I still find myself struggling with taking public stands given the purpose of the blogs I write for. Maybe it's that each one has other authors, so anything I do might affect other people?

In so far as organizations wrestling with ground truth, it gets even more difficult. As consultants we often find ourselves in the position of being asked to speak the ground truth, but I know there have been times when I spoke only to discover they really didn't want to hear it. Other times, the organizational culture was such that they embraced the information and having light shined into their blind spots.

Times when I have worked with organizations where the collective values are in contrast to mine, particularly around speaking truth, my life force has been consumed by trying to straddle and accommodate core difference. I can do it, but the personal price is often high. I find it takes up residence in my head and fights with my heart and soul. Becomes uncomfortable my heart goes out to you.

'Ground truths' is a great concept ... if it is encouraged, and then accepted in the spirit and practice of plain speaking, honesty, mututal respect and transparency ... as one would hope authentic dialogue does.

Diversity of opinion in large organisations is often stifled in the interests of corporate managerial efficiency. How shortsighted, and what angst this repression can cause at every level of the organisation.

I understand what you're saying Christine, about being less comfortable about writing ground truths than saying them. To some extent I think that there's something about having it in writing, where people can point to your words and say "You said THIS, you see, right here!" If I speak truths, then they can't do that. Of course, what they can do is twist the words because there's no written record to go back to either, so I guess it goes both ways.

I do know, as you point out, that it can be very draining to work long-term in situations that don't accord with your values, including values about speaking ground truths. I always find myself wanting to "fix" those places, as if I could somehow show them how it could be done, when often it isn't a lack of skill as much as a lack of will.

And Kate, I think you're very right about diversity being stifled in the name of efficiency, especially in large organizations. Sometimes I think we even stifle ourselves in an attempt to fit in, and we do it without even knowing it or realizing. It's very sad.

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