Upon reflection, we can acknowledge that our human mind is rather limited:
We overestimate what we do know and we underestimate what we don’t know.
We humans take a lot at face value. We suffer from “black swan blindness” (as we mostly see white swans, we tend to think they are all white and we tend to forget about the black ones). We can even ignore “stampeding black elephants” if we want?! In other words, we can ignore very obvious facts that are in the face (please see the previous blog post dd. 25 November 2014).
Interesting questions that follow out of these facts are: How do we deal with reality? How do we (want to) see things? How much are we aware of our limitations? And how do we manage these limitations?
“In my prints I try to show that we live in a beautiful and orderly world, not in formless chaos, (…). I cannot resist fooling around with our established certainties. It gives me great pleasure, for example, to deliberately mix together objects with two and three dimensions, surface and spatial relationships, and to make fun of gravity.” – M.C. Escher
Whereas M.C. Escher liked to fool around with established certainties and this resulted in some confusion but above all in great art, Public Relation activities seem to make an art out of “fooling” people’s minds by trying to constitute certain beliefs. In both cases, perceptions are played with. It can be a creative and fun game, but a dangerous one too. Depending on the context, the rules, the players and the (aligned or conflicting) interests at stake among others.
In the case of Virunga National Park in East Congo, documentary maker Orlando von Einsiedel makes in an interview with Huffington Post (dd. 4 February 2015) a fair point about the PR exercise of an UK company which explores for oil in the oldest national park of Africa, home to the last mountain gorillas, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Orlando’s Oscar nominated documentary “Virunga” highlights the conflict between nature conservation and big corporation pursuit of resources.
Last year, the UK oil company SOCO International made together with the World Wildlife Fund the following joint statement : “not to undertake or commission any drilling in Virunga unless UNESCO and the DRC government agreed that it was not incompatible with its World Heritage status”. (Please find more background information in my blog post dd. 14 June 2014)
At first glance, this sounds promising, but the statement can be read in different ways; it leaves room for several interpretations. It is as confusing as M.C. Escher’s paintings… In the interview Orlando says that “The door is still open. Everyone must keep their eyes open.”
It is still uncertain whether this enterprise will take their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) serious or whether the SOCO-WWF-statement is just a PR exercise. Will SOCO respect the current National Park borders or will they disregard the existing (geographical and ethical) boundaries? This is not a decision that SOCO can make in isolation. CSR is not just a corporate social responsibility. All market actors throughout the chain are responsible! All stakeholders are involved. Including clients and shareholders.
Initially, another oil company had an exploration concession in the Virunga region as well. Total. However, they decided to withdraw under share- and stakeholder pressure. Plus, they clearly stated that they won’t touch any currently protected areas going forward. CSR and reputation mechanisms had their effects! Total is a renowned brand, a visible market party; they have a reputation to uphold, want to avoid bad press, boycotts et cetera.
Although it can work, how many share- and stakeholders dare or bother to raise a voice? Or is it not just a matter of daring or bothering, but also of being aware of this position in the market and of this power in the product chain? How many share- and stakeholders are aware of their critical roles? And how many take their responsibility? That it is not all about Profit, but also about People and Planet.
“There are domains in which expertise is not possible. Stock picking is a good example. And in long term political strategic forecasting, it’s been shown that experts are just not better than a dice-throwing monkey” – Daniel Kahneman
We learn from Daniel Kahneman that monkeys can pick stocks as well as professional investors from an economic return (Profit) point of view. We would hope however, that responsible shareholders don’t act like monkeys (no offence to monkeys; I love them!) and take their involvement serious; that they consider social (People) and environmental aspects (Planet) of an investment with conscience.
A good recent example seems to be the Church of England. They consider to sell GBP 3m SOCO shares:
The Guardian dd. 7FEB2015:
Variety dd. 11FEB2015:
Please see my blog post dd. 1JULY2015 with the latest update – “Church of England divests from Soco oil firm over Virunga operations“:
Next to the shareholders, also the clients and the consumers of companies can play their responsible/ critical roles. Enough transparency in markets, throughout product chains, needs to be ensured. More consumer awareness is needed, more involvement. The concerns individuals have as citizens should translate more into the decisions individuals make as consumers. This dual role is intriguing and I will get back to it later on. It is not just by Escher’s art or SOCO’s PR that people get fooled, but people also fool themselves… with our limited minds… We need to think more (critically) and acknowledge phenomena like black swans and stampeding black elephants.