Information, Communication & “Brand Value”

Don’t get me wrong, the Tokyo Fire Department are doing a wonderful and even heroic job risking health and life at the Fukushima #1 plant. But their strength is putting fires out, or adapting that skill to cool reactors on the breach to meltdown.

It was getting clear during a press conference that presentation technique is not within their skill set. At the press conference an official from the Tokyo Fire Department presented the latest information about the progress of setting up pumps to cool Reactor #3. And there are different ways of doing that. This official took a somewhat cumbersome bottom-up approach.

Starting out with some pictures of the firetrucks that was used. Explaining that they had great difficulty to reach the Fukushima #1 with the big trucks because the roads were is in such a bad shape. And that is why it took such a long time to reach the plant from Tokyo. Continuing with how long the hose was and how many men they needed to bring the hose from the water source to where Reactor #3. And how they had to go around to get to Reactor #3, pointing it all out on a printed A4 paper with a simple diagram of the plant layout, also including some hand made notes. Then continuing in details about the setup and switching back and forth between the different photos and diagram on printed A4s.

Eventually, after what felt like ages, he reached what I thought was the most important point. They managed to set everything up so that water was now being pumped into Reactor #3 and the state of Reactor #3 had stabilized 🙂

Again, don’t get me wrong, as I mentioned in the beginning, these firefighters are doing a heroic job. This blog post is not about criticizing the official nor the Tokyo Fire Department as a whole. Instead I just want to make a note on thought I have had and that has been growing during the last week.

Information. The importance of it. The importance of being able to communicate it. And how value of your “brand” plays an important role in the communication.

Information is critical in our decision making, like if and when to leave Tokyo. Without correct information we cannot make informed decisions. In hindsight these uninformed decision may often look like irrational behavior or cause us to think of ourselves “how could I be so stupid”.

How you communicate the information is also important. And that depends deeply on who you are talking to, your audience, and what they want to hear. Domain experts are probably interested in details and have the knowledge to induce an understanding of the whole picture from the details. Our official from the Tokyo Fire Department however was not talking to domain experts but to the public.

Perhaps the official should have started with the overall picture and straight to the point, their efforts were successful. It would have taken a maximum of 30 seconds and people would have known a critical pice of information for making up their mind e.g. if they should leave Tokyo or not. There is also a risk that the critical information is lost in the flood of details, or in other words, you cannot see the woods because of all the trees 😉

How does “brand” value play a role in this? Take TEPCO for instance. They have a history of not being trustworthy, and that is their “brand” value when it comes to communication. In the past week it would have made little difference whatever TEPCO would have said, the full truth or lying all the time, people tend to not trust them because of their “brand” value. The consequence is uncertainty and it causes speculations, both of which makes it unnecessarily difficult for people to make good decisions.

I think this is something top managers of this type of companies as well as governmental organizations should consider. You need to “build” you brand for worst case scenarios. Lying to save your skin at some time can get serious consequences at a later stage when you need a high “brand” value but have non.

A Thought or Two

There are things you take for granted in life, and you don’t miss it… Until you miss it 😉

Like transportation and the fact that it is not always working. Not even in Japan. There is a huge number of people being transported in and out of Tokyo every day. The busiest station being Shinjuku with an average of 3.6 million people [wikipedia]. Add on top of that all the other stations and the sum is quite a few million people.

Yesterday, after the earthquake when trains and subways had stopped all those people still had to get home. So how did people get home? A few took taxis, but soon taxis were almost impossible to get hold of. The rest had to use whatever means they had, such as walking and riding bicycles (unless is was stuck in an automatic parking machine :-)), and cars if they brought one.

Richard Masoner made me realize or register what I saw yesterday at a bicycle shop just around the corner from where I live. People were buying bicycles. The shop usually is full to the brim with bicycles and often have them lined up on the street outside. But yesterday it was almost empty. And still there were quite a lot of people in the store looking at the few remaining bikes. Richard reports of similar buy-outs in other shops as well.

Chie also tried to buy a bike at DonQuijote but all bikes were sold out. She also reports that convenient store like 7-Eleven were sold out on bentos (box food), chocolate bars, PET bottles, paper tissues, wet tissues and flash lights. As were the popular Japanese vending machines, which you can find in almost every street corner.

We have friends that were lucky to find hotel rooms. But soon hotels were also full. Some hotels open their lobby for the public and offering hot drinks.

Other friends were waiting a few hours for busses. The busses were still running, though it was slow progress as the traffic jammed up everywhere.

Bic Camera and Apple Store offered iPhone charging so that people could tweet, blog, or use other means on the Internet to get in contact with friends and family. The cellular phone networks were impossible to use. Probably overloaded (it took about 2 hours before Chie and I got in contact via cellular phone). People instead lining up to use the few pay phones still available.

This is just a few things that we have grown accustomed to in a modern society. And think about it, epicenter was about 400 km from Tokyo. People living closer to the epicenter are missing much more than transportation and means of communication.