Knowing and Making Mon, 25 Nov 2019 18:01:16 GMT language
That philosophy could be summarised as: if it makes sense, someone's already tried it. So try something that doesn't.
The ideas that underpin the book are broadly based on behavioural economics and cognitive science, with bits of evolutionary theory, statistics and old-fashioned advertising intuition thrown in. At first it doesn't look like a behavioural science book as such: the theoretical backbone takes a while to show. Rory's style is discursive: an after-dinner-talk of anecdotes, dismantling of conventional wisdom, ever-so-slightly outrageous assertions, and the periodic emergence of abstract wisdom in the third paragraph of a mid-chapter page.
Some of those smart insights include:
- logical "engineering" solutions often do work, but given that nearly every problem in the world has had someone try to solve it with logic, the remaining unsolved ones are those where logic failed. So if you are working on a problem that still exists, try something illogical. (This is, perhaps, the generalised version of "look for where there are no bullet holes".)
- people tend to focus on optimising the obvious features of a product: you can often find smart new solutions by shifting to a less obvious dimension. For instance, make a vacuum cleaner look like a cool piece of tech instead of just cheaper or stronger. If you can't make your plane take off on time, it may be almost as good to give reliable information about how late it will be.
- it's useful to have a space, such as your advertising agency, where it's OK to ask silly questions and challenge long-established premises.
- what people do with their money is often a better guide to their desires than what they say.
After an introductory section, the deeper scientific ideas behind the book start to emerge. Five concepts inspire a new set of marketing approaches: insights from statistical mathematics (ergodicity), cognitive economics (changing the value of things by changing the mental state through which they are interpreted), evolutionary theory (signalling and self-signalling), cognitive science (satisficing), and perceptual psychology (psychophysics).
This is where Rory's approach diverges from the typical ad guru. It's a complex-systems philosophy: the idea that systems of different kinds often exhibit similar structural elements or dynamic phenomena. Thus, a strategy that works for flowers might also work for brands. A statistical insight from the criminal justice system may also have value in planning public transport investments, or the pricing of airline tickets.
I still think Trump won the election mainly due to a factor that's acknowledged, but not emphasised, in this book: luck (though he did happen on a messaging and emotional strategy that at least gave him a chance of competing). Most theories, and most books like this, are an attempt to explain the real reasons behind things, to provide meaning and salve the anxiety of not-knowing. Only a few (such as the early books of Nassim Taleb, whom Rory acknowledges here) admit that a lot of the world just can't fully be predicted or controlled.
Mon, 25 Nov 2019 18:01:16 GMT language