The Dog That Didn’t Bark and The Truth That Must


“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. “ — Peter Drucker

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Sherlock Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Sherlock Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

“Silver Blaze” is a short story from the 1892 collection of short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The story centres around the disappearance of a famous racehorse the night before a race and the murder of the horse’s trainer.

As he so often did, Holmes solved the mystery by focussing on what was missing rather than what was present. In this case, Holmes recognised that none of the people he interviewed mentioned that the watchdog had barked on the night of the incident.

Holmes concluded if the dog did not bark, then the dog must have known the perpetrator and this led him to track down the guilty party.

This Thursday Thought focusses on how selective truths, selective memory and selective news reporting are used to sway our opinions, often without us ever knowing.

Cherry Picking History — Coca Cola and Fanta

On this week’s innovation show we speak to strategic communications expert, master storyteller and author of “Truth: How the Many Sides to Every Story Shape Our Reality”, Hector MacDonald. One of the many nuggets Hector shares is the selective history of Coca Cola and in particular Fanta.

Hector tells us, to celebrate their milestone anniversary in 2011, Coca Cola released a short history booklet called “125 Years of Sharing Happiness”. Coca Cola also owns and invented the brand Fanta. Fanta is mentioned in the booklet in 1955, although it was invented in 1940, but this monumental moment is not captured in the booklet (see below the innocuous entry for 1940) . How could this monumental event be omitted from the prestigious history?

It just so happens that Fanta was indeed invented in 1940, in Nazi Germany.

Prior to the World War 2, Germany was Coca-Cola’s most successful market beyond the USA. However, when war broke out sourcing key ingredients for Coca-Cola became increasingly difficult. In a great example of innovation by necessity, to keep the the company alive in occupied territories, they created a new drink Fanta (from the German word for Imagination Fantasie). With so many ingredients unavailable, the team used whey and apple fibre amongst others to create the hit drink, which was even used to sweeten soups and stews as a substitute for sugar.

While this is an interesting story, it shows how easily we can be given only the favourable part of any story to impart a specific agenda. However, what happens when this is done at governmental level, what happens when a government starts selecting what story the public should believe?

Let Bygones be Bygones: The Edict of Nantes

There is a little more to the phrase ‘let bygones be bygones’ than to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. It was recorded by John Heywood in his 1562 edition of Proverbs, where it meant ‘let the unpleasantness between us become a thing of the past’.

The Edict of Nantes

We employ this concept in our everyday lives, “build a bridge and get over it”, being a commonly used phrase, but how would it make you feel if your government decided what history should be removed and what should be kept? While we may suspect this is already the case, France embraced the concept fully with the policy of oubliance (literally forgetfulness, forgetting or oblivion).

When King Henry IV of France signed The Edict of Nantes April 1598, it signalled the end of the religious wars that had afflicted France during the second half of the 16th century. The interesting thing was the proclamation that “the memory of everything done by one side or the other, between March 1585 and our accession to the crown, and during the preceding troubles and because of them, shall remain obliterated and forgotten.”

France literally ordered the obliteration of all official documentation, memoirs, references to the conflict. They even pardoned all crimes and lawsuits affiliated to the conflict, released guilty prisoners and imposed a perpetual silence, literally “Don’t mention the war!”.

I share this anecdote brilliantly covered by Hector MacDonald in his book Truth and on the show to highlight how incredible seems when we look back. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but we would be naive to think that this does not happen today. The reality is we have all lost trust in sources of our information.

As I covered in the very first Thursday Thought, “Paying the Ferryman” in this age of bite-sized news, the power lies with the distributor. Facebook, Google and other social media have become the gateway to the worlds information and thus the worlds news. Whoever controls the algorithms controls the information.

We may be outraged by political agendas supported by news outlets. We may be incensed by agendas being funded by governmental bodies. We are infuriated when the gatekeeper is embroiled in biased coverage. This is the danger when corporate behemoths like Facebook and Google become more powerful than governments themselves.

The Pied Pipers

“Breaking someone’s trust is like crumpling up a perfect piece of paper. You can smooth it over but it’s never going to be the same again.”

We have a tendency to focus on what’s present rather than what’s missing, as the Sherlock Holmes story illustrates. and the way a question is formulated can direct this search.

The way we consume media has changed forever. Think about how you make most decisions today? If you have access to the internet you use a search engine, you check recommendations and reviews and you may ask a “real-life” friend. The point is many of us use the internet. Digital natives have been born into a world of bite-sized news, attention spans are short and busyness is at an all-time high so fewer people read longer articles.

When making big decisions people either go with the general consensus or with how their “tribe” decides. Some of us may do some research and thus click the links that comes to the top of the search page rankings, very few of us check page 2, as the joke goes, if you want to hide a dead body, the best place to do so is page 2 of google search rankings!

The information we are presented with is how we make decisions, bad data in, bad data out! The information we consume informs our paradigm, our reality or perception of reality. If that information is biased then our decisions/realities/lives will be even more biased beyond the many biases we all contend with on a daily basis.

When there is poison in the well, all the water is impacted. When we lose trust in the information source it rattles us, when we will lose faith in the gatekeeper we no longer know who to trust. With recent events, we ca no longer trust the source, nor the gatekeeper to the source. What recent events?

We are all aware of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, yet a vast majority of internet users still use Facebook or one of the Facebook suite of products (The innovation show uses Instagram and FB and personally I use Whatsapp, mainly because none of my tribe are on Signal, but Facebook are doing their best to reverse the Network effect).

Now Google is embroiled in Cambridge-Analytica-Esque antics. Just check out the recent reports by “Tucker Carlson Tonight”, where he reveals how Google is guilty of political bias and how a senior Google employee deployed the company’s resources to increase voter turnout in ways she believed would help Clinton win the election or see this recent complaint filed by Brave’s Dr Johnny Ryan.

With trust at an all time low, where do we turn for unbiased, factual reporting? This is the time for public broadcasters to stand up and be counted (more on that on an upcoming Thursday Thought). This is also a huge opportunity for “you-are-not-a-product” browsers like Brave and “Privacy-that-fits-in-your-pocket” messengers like Signal.

We Look for What is There, Not for What is Missing

We humans have a natural tendency to focus on what is present rather than what is missing. This is why the majority consume the information they receive consciously by consuming media, where a message is repeated and we are victims of the mere exposure effect, where we tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them or hear them over and over again.

“Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” — Ignatius of Loyola

There is a Jesuit maxim widely attributed to Ignatius of Loyola where he said “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man”. This is because we can be programmed heavily in those first 7 years, but that does not mean that we are done. The stories we tell ourselves, the behaviours we observe and the data/media we consume form our opinions and thus our perceived realities.

If you would like to hear more about this topic of Truth in an era of low trust, check out the brilliant Hector MacDonald on the Innovation show, links below.

Thank you for Reading

“There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times” — Voltaire

True or false? It’s rarely that simple.

EP 121: “Truth: How the Many Sides to Every Story Shape Our Reality” with strategic communications expert, master storyteller and author Hector MacDonald aims to equip us to spot misleading truths that are all around us and to communicate more effectively with friends and family.

We can select truths constructively to inspire organisations, encourage children, and drive progressive change. Or we can select truths that give a false impression of reality, misleading people without actually lying. Others can do the same, motivating or deceiving us with the truth. Truths are neutral but highly versatile tools that we can use for good or ill.

This episode explores how truth is used and abused in politics, business, the media and everyday life. We will explore how a clearer understanding of truth’s many faces renders us better able to navigate our world and more influential within it.

Have a Listen:







More about Hector here:

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