Every decision we make are design choices and have consequences

Have you seen The Social Dilemma yet? It is a docudrama on Netflix, which lays out the rise of social media companies, platforms and the damage social media is creating in society, from its use to influence politics, through exacerbating polarisation, to the deliberate choice to exploit "users" through surveillance capitalism and data mining. 

The label "users" is apt, with people in social media companies making deliberate choices to deliberately design features that manipulate human psychology, to gradually change our behaviour and nurture addiction, so advertisers and influencers have more engaged eyeballs, more of the time. 

In the docudrama, Jaron Lanier, a Founding Father of Virtual Reality, identifies the design principle sitting at the heart of social media company decisions: manipulation. He says, "We’ve put deceit and sneakiness at the absolute center of everything we do…".  Particularly for the younger generation, who are suffering declines in mental health, increases in cyberbullying, Lanier states their connection and communication are more and more mediated and choreographed by online platforms.

"You don’t have self-determination. We’ll sneakily just manipulate you because you’re a computing node, and we need to program you, because that’s what we do with computing nodes."

To counter the social consequences of social media, there has been a rise in research, advocacy, as well as treatment for mental health impact.

Psychologists are specialising in helping young people to overcome the impacts of gaming and social media. We also have apps we can install on our phones to block us from using social media, literally delegating our will power to tech.  

Organisations are being formed by the very leaders featured who have contributed to the poor social impacts, who are seeking to right their wrongs, correct their mistakes (although the gene is out of the bottle), and build awareness. For example, there is the Center for Humane Technology co-founded by Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist at Google and Justin Rosenstein co-creator of the Facebook Like Button. 

Imagine for a moment, being a leader in your mid-30s, coming to the realisation that your invention, at scale, has contributed to the decline in self esteem in young people, and the rise in youth suicide, rather than the flourishing of young people into confident, contributors of humanity. 

The manipulative business model, with incentives to drive behaviour, is the anathema of a new era, where ethics, self-determination, mutual understanding, autonomy, power with, and systemic justice must be enabled for people to thrive, feel safe, for multi-cultural communities to flourish, for people to achieve their potential. 

Leaders have influence. Let it be for human flourishing

Every decision we make leaves a trace in something.  

All the design decisions we make - whether it is about a product, a service, a building fit out, a remuneration plan, an urban plan, social safety net, university entrance fees, a social procurement plan - sows seeds, that grow and bear fruit. 

It is a challenge for us as human beings to judge before our decisions take shape in the world, what kind of fruit. We find prediction hard. The creators of the Facebook Like button, the infinite scroll (based on poker machine design), are unlikely to have fully comprehended the outcomes of their decisions. They did however know that manipulation of our behaviour and beliefs about ourselves were the goals.

Human beings were computing nodes to be programmed for the rewards of self-interest - whether that is the first to invent a new feature, meet "user" targets. And so on. 

We all leave a trace, a mark in the world, with our decisions and actions. We are embedded in the systems - we mould them and are moulded by them. 

The common good and planetary health need to be central in the design matrix

To shift systems and regenerate society and the planet, we need noble aims and a deep commitment to acting with integrity towards those aims. And, when I say noble, I mean respecting and honouring the dignity and intrinsic worth of all life. 

I think about this example of manipulation with respect to my decisions and how I would measure up. I do know that if we want a world where people thrive, we all need to take responsibility to become adept critical, ethical, systemic thinkers and actors, who recognise the influence of self-interest and who deliberately choose mutual or communal interest instead. 

Social media has many many benefits. Many women have started businesses using Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest as platforms, increasing employment and having a positive impact on women entrepreneurs.   

Being conscious, values-driven, clear on our principles, focused on noble aims, and with a huge dose of humility, has never been more critical. 

As leaders you can have a profound positive influence.  When designing a new app to connect clients with a disability, to disability services, how do you do it to empower self-determination and respect the privacy of individuals. When marketing your business or service on social media, how do you avoid manipulation and deceit? 

Intentions, principles and values will guide you

The intentions, principles and values that guide how you make your decisions directly affect whether you will have a positive or negative impact. 

For my own reflection, there are two principles that I try to hold as immovable when making decisions:

  • that every human being it limitless in potential, and must be treated with dignity and respect; and
  • that my actions need to contribute to ecological regeneration. 

Implementing these is no joke, because I am influenced by my beliefs about success, sense of identity, emotional triggers, values, privilege, biases, norms and ways of doing things and so on.  

It requires a deeper understanding of systems and systemic injustice and my role in them. 

It requires me to stand back and look at my blind spots, with humility and integrity.  

It requires me to develop emotional intelligence, including a deep practice of mindfulness, contemplation and reflective practice. 

Our world needs leaders committed to human dignity

Shifting the system to be more humane, fair, respectful, and ethical will take time. 

It is where we need to head. 

Our world needs leaders to step up and make decisions founded on values like justice, compassion, generosity, and integrity.  

We need leaders who are distinguished by their courage, wisdom, humility and service to the common good. 

We need leaders who know they need to do the inner work to become increasingly conscious of what sits at the root of their decisions and actions. 

Leading with nobility for a new era

My focus is to enable purpose-driven leaders to scale positive impacts. 

It is time to build our capacity to lead with nobility, with humane values and principles, in every decision we make, and every action we take. 

I am delighted to share with you our new Masterclass Series: Leading with nobility for a new era

Our facilitation team has come together to craft a thoughtful leadership program. It is designed for you to forge new ways of leading, aligned with the needs of this time, and:

  • move beyond reactivity and overwhelm, to gain confidence in who you choose to be, with clarity of purpose, contribution, values, and qualities of character
  • dive deeper into systems, to address injustice and inequities, and move towards inclusion and belonging. 
  • explore and gain capacities to sense-make and explore new possibilities and ways of thinking, being and doing as a leader
  • strengthen your capacity to engender trust in your relationships, teams, and organisations, recognising the need for cooperation and reciprocity to create a thriving planet for all life.  
  • face into the many ethical dilemmas and challenges, with courage, compassion and integrity.

This is a timely transformational and practical leadership development opportunity to renew how you will lead for the common good in this new era.

Our event page is ready and available for you to explore: https://www.barasaconsult.com/masterclass-series/