Faith

I have often wondered; in my travels, how humans have had the capacity to build such larger than life monuments as the Taj Mahal, the Sagrada Familia, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Sistine Chapel.

I’ve also been amazed at how religion was the muse for so many creations of great art and architecture: and therein, lay my answer.

Humans have the capacity to create something larger than life: something that goes beyond their own lifetime – as they are driven by a faith in something larger than their selves.

I choose the word faith, not religion.

Faith is multifold. It could be a faith in God (religion) A faith in love. Faith in progress. Or simply faith in the act of, and desire for creation. The desire to create something magnificent because why not?

But the answer is the same: faith.

And it perhaps isn’t without reason that the word faith is often suffixed with the adjective ‘blind’. For it rests; not in something we see, but in something we choose to believe in despite the lack of any signs of it’s presence.

This; I fear, is what we miss today.

For we would rather be driven by insignificant things that are apparent. Than significant things; that though invisible to the naked eye, we can create everyday.

Why Advertising is The Dark Knight

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Some of you may think I have an obsession for likening the advertising industry with Christopher Nolan movies. I wouldn’t blame you, I have done it in the past. But as any good planner will tell you: two instances, do not a trend make. (Besides, I’m thinking more Frank Miller than Nolan)

Having established that, here’s why I think advertising is like Batman.

For a very long time, I have held the belief that people are fundamentally irrational. And have tried presenting this point-of-view in several occasions – stretching from conversations with friends over beers (that invariably have me outnumbered) or in conversations with colleagues and clients and of course with the more engineering minded folk aiming to develop new products, interfaces or even services.  To little avail.

Perhaps this is something that more of you from adland can relate to. From conversations I’ve had – I believe that it is.

As an industry: irrationality is not only something we believe in but also a truth we work with. Many of us are irrational in our own ways, and certainly welcoming of it. Yet, our stand on irrationality outside our own industry often receives little or no heed.

Why?

I found the answer in The Anatomy Of Humbug, by Paul Feldwick:

“the need for clients, agencies, and the public alike to cling to their self-image as ‘rational’, autonomous decision makers.” 

Everyone wants to believe that they are in control. And nobody likes to be told otherwise.

Even if the truth that is spoken, is used everyday to create something that makes their lives better – yet eluding.

It is for this reason I believe we advertisers, are the dark knights of industry. For people will not understand our ways, and we certainly won’t receive much gratitude for them. If we speak of our ways we will be silenced but we act on them everyday to make things better. For it is what the world needs, it is what our client’s need and it is what our consumers need.

It is because we recognise, that rationality, like morality is not black-or-white.

Speak, beautifully

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“And a poet said. Speak to us of Beauty. 
And he answered:
Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?”

– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Whatever happened to saying things beautifully?

It doesn’t appear that language alone, has taken a turn for the worse. Rather, communication as a whole.

We don’t believe in people being gorgeous or beautiful anymore. They’ve been reduced to ten point scales.

Nobody is exhaustedThey are very tired. 

Poetry has made way for the bullet point.

While penmanship has made way for words on a jpeg.

Beliefs and fortitudes have been bastardised to hashtags.

Truth be told, the things we express, and how we choose to express them are no less than art.

In each note, stroke and syllable, lies the power to transmit beauty, pain, wisdom and emotion from one soul to another.

No, not just one man to another. Rather, a truly metaphysical transfer of intangible concepts from one transient mind to another. Wherein lies the capacity for so many things to be said, simply by being unsaid.

Yes, that power. To change minds. Change perceptions. Even time.

Whatever happened to using that power, wisely?

Illustration by Kahlil Gibran Source

Why I ask people “Are you happy?”

The other day at a party I met an acquaintance after a long time. Since our last meeting, she had started in a new job and about it, I asked her “So, are you happy?”.

It was pointed out to me as being a rather unusual question, and I realised that it was something I asked most people when we spoke about their jobs. Or lives in general. (I also found it interesting that perhaps the most important question has been deemed unusual)

Nonetheless, I asked myself why I do it, and I realised that very often we tend to make small problems worse than they are. We always start with a “Yeah it’s great ..” and we trail off toward the ominous “but …”

“.. the hours are really bad”, “.. the pay could be better”, “.. I am not sure how much longer I would stick around”

Asking what appears to be the most overarching question, simplifies it. A question that is perhaps, too simplified, that forces anyone to distill their thoughts down to the essence. Not only that, it also makes people think about what they actually like about their reality. It reframes the question from “What’s not working?”, to “So, what’s working?”

And what I have discovered, interestingly enough is that most people will say “Yes, I am happy”. Perhaps it is because when we are asked to think about our own happiness, from the larger perspective, we conclude that the smaller problems aren’t so bad after all.

The problems are more discomforts, than challenges. Or they rank lower in the priorities as to actually disturb happiness.

Furthermore, the few people who say “No”, aren’t bogged down by the little discomforts, rather by real personal challenges: their health, careers (not ‘jobs’) their relationships, or their spiritual and mental well-being.

Perhaps then, we should spend our time focusing on those important things.

Targeting, Astrology and Racism

There are so many things that guides a single person’s behaviour.

Her religious inclinations.

Her neurological make up.

How little, or much she values money.

Her state of hunger at the moment in time.

Her upbringing.

Her unresolved fears.

Her philosophical values.

Her relationship with her father. Or mother.

Her personal experiences and learnings.

Her health.

Her economic well-being or lack thereof when she was a child.

Her sun sign. (?)

Her politcal opinions.

Her view of the environment.

Her conclusions on what is worthy of pursuit in life.

How little, or much she values her own time.

And mathematically, we know that the more the people, the less likely we are to know how they would behave. Because if each of these inclinations directs one person one way, it is likely that they will direct five different people in five different ways.

And you really, really think, bucketing her in a large, not-clearly defined group labeled merely on the bracket of years during which she was born will determine how she behaves?

Insights from the insightful Dara Ó Briain, if you prefer it:

See Your Own Blindness, First

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I have seen many managers distance themselves from consumers by drawing a line between their own perceived rationality, and the irrationality of consumers.

However, we must recognise that we are fundamentally irrational beings, and as managers and business people too, we have our own irrationalities that we are not aware of. And that these irrationalities affect our view of the customers of our businesses, and of our own biases – which in turn affects the management decisions we make.

It then becomes of paramount importance that anyone in a role that has to do with customers or driving business growth through understanding and influencing customers (be it marketing, sales, advertising, business development, customer acquisition and so on) first recognise that they are a consumer too.

For the more we distance ourselves from those who are influenced by our decisions and actions, the less effective we can be in influencing them.

On reading ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman, I found this excerpt which I believe makes this point in the same vein. In the context of the experiment on inattentional blindness (watch before you read on, if you don’t know it already), it says:

“The authors note that the most remarkable observation of their study is that people find its results very surprising. Indeed, the viewers who fail to see the gorilla are initially sure that it was not there – they cannot imagine missing such a striking event. The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our own blindness.”

As managers, we are “blind to our own blindness”, too. We are people after all.

The Importance Of Experimentation

 

I was just leafing through the book ‘Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It’ by Chris Voss, and an excerpt from this book has an interesting learning for us all:

‘For more than three decades, Harvard had been the world epicenter of negotiating theory and practice. All I knew about the techniques we used at the FBI was that they worked. In the twenty years I spent at the Bureau we’d designed a system that had successfully resolved almost every kidnapping we applied it to. But we didn’t have grand theories.

Our techniques were the products of experiential learning; they were developed by agents in the field, negotiating through crisis and sharing stories of what succeeded and what failed. It was an iterative process, not an intellectual one, as we refined the tools we used day after day. And it was urgent. Our tools had to work, because if they didn’t someone died’

Needless to say, theoretical discussions come from a fear of getting actions wrong and having to face consequences – an irrationality that is a fundamentally human desire of minimising risk.

And while it is easy to highlight the importance of action and experimentation over theoretical discussions, I’d rather share with you my little system of how to get to it!

  1. Do, don’t discuss: Experiment. Instead of discussing what could work, just run with one of the plans.
  2. Take notes: Note down what you did, the results and your inferences.
  3. Find out what works: Best practices are more relevant and practical than theoretical discussions. Keep them handy.
  4. Change what’s working: This bit is hard when we usually have a ‘Don’t fix what’s not broken’ mentality. I think its easy to settle in a routine that is working. But there might be a better one, who knows? You might as well look for it.
  5. Repeat

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Before that, Step 0: Get rid of fear

Happy experimenting!