Switching off the autopilot


He was thinking, not only dancing.”

So wrote Suzanne Moore, writing of the continuous invention and reinvention that characterised the art of David Bowie.

Thinking, not only dancing.

The words have rattled around my head since I first read them.

Thinking, not only dancing.

​And it prompts the thought that we should ​beware the organisation ​(whether we work in it, or with it) ​that does not have an intellectual life.

Now given that the word ‘intellectual’ is feared so much by those who like to present themselves as doers, makers and generally amongst life’s practical and unpretentious go-getters, let me clarify.

​We should beware the organization that does not at every level ​exhibit and encourage a healthy degree of spirited debate.

​T​hat merely absorbs the current orthodoxy​.

​T​hat feeds upon the speculation and ‘best practice’ of others​.​

​T​hat cannot accommodate heresy​.

That indeed, believes heresy IS something which exists.

And that is too locked into ​the comfort of ​habit to question ​it.

Of course the bigger the organization, the greater the need for process, systems, and rules.

Which presents us with a rather delicious paradox.

There’s nothing like size and success to make an organization stupid.

And while this is a paradox, it is not excuse.

The balance must be found.

The voices must be heard (and insist they make themselves heard).

The safe spaces and forums created.

The future must be visited.

And the experiments run.

 For the organization that can not or will not, isn’t merely dancing.

 It’s dancing in the dark.



Suzanne Moore, ‘My David Bowie, alive for ever’, Guardian, 11.01.16


We create for audiences that do not exist


I came across a heady essay by Corey Robin in The Chronicle – ‘How Intellectuals Create A Public.’

More than a tangential source perhaps, but nonetheless, it contains some choice pieces of wisdom for Adland:

Publics, as John Dewey argued, never simply exist; they are always created. Created out of groups of people who are made and mangled by the actions of other people. Capital acts upon labor, subjugating men and women at work, making them miserable at home. Those workers are not yet a public. But when someone says — someone writes — “Workers of the world, unite!,” they become a public that is willing and able to act upon its shared situation. It is in the writing of such words, the naming of such names — “Workers of the world” or “We, the People,” even “The Problem That Has No Name” — that a public is summoned into being. In the act of writing for a public, intellectuals create the public for which they write.”

That’s also how public intellectuals work. By virtue of the demands they make upon the reader, they force a reckoning. They summon a public into being — if nothing else a public conjured out of opposition to their writing.”

We have the means, we have the material. What we don’t have is mass. We have episodic masses, which effervesce and overflow. But it’s hard to imagine masses that will endure, publics that won’t disappear… And it is that constraint on the imagination and hence the will that is the biggest obstacle to the public intellectual today… the fear that the publics that don’t yet exist — which are, after all, the only publics we’ve ever had — never will exist.”

Rather good, I thought.


Corey Robin, ‘How Intellectuals Create A Public’, The Chronicle, 22.01.16

Why being unanimous might not always be a good thing



Exhibit A:
In a police line-up, the probability that an individual is guilty increases with the first three witnesses who unanimously identify him or her, but then decreases with additional unanimous witness identifications.

Exhibit B:
Under Jewish law, one could not be unanimously convicted of a capital crime – it was held that the absence of even one dissenting opinion among the judges indicated that there must remain some form of undiscovered exculpatory evidence.

If you want to nerd out on Bayesian statistics, I refer you to Lachlan J. Gunn, et al’s ‘Too good to be true: when overwhelming evidence fails to convince,’ published this month by The Royal Society.

In the meantime, it would seem to rather make a mockery of seeking unanimous feedback – whether it’s from clients or from consumers – to ideas.

Because if absolutely everybody is loving (or hating) something, then the chances are something hasn’t been thought about.

Just a thought.


Thanks go to Shane at the brilliant and essential Farnham Street for unearthing this gem

Just stop being… You


The masks were everything, of course. They are still. Without the masks the music wouldn’t exist. They provided a vehicle for years of restless, relentless creativity. Anyone who does creative work knows this to be true: that lots of the time you just need a really good way to get out of the way. Ever stuck? Try out a persona. They let you express an idea differently.”

Source: James Craig

If only we got out of our own way more often.

Re-thinking “the consumer”


Over the years I had come to feel faintly queasy about portraying people as “consumers.”

I worried that it squeezed all empathy and understanding out of our perspective, reducing people to the moment of purchase or consumption.

To mere mouths and wallets.

Then I read this exchange:

Magazine: Who are your heroes in real life?”

Artist: “The consumer”

The choice of language felt deliberate – no predictable mention of “the audience.”

It’s made me change my mind.

And made me think that at least the language of “the consumer” offers a more honest perspective than that of “the audience.”

For it reminds us that is people who ultimately determine the terms of engagement – it they who determine what is successful, and is not.

It reminds us that by and large, people are not waiting or looking for what we put out – as Gossage reminded us all those years ago, “When advertising talks about the audience, it doesn’t mean its audience, it means somebody else’s, gathered there to watch or read something else.

It reminds us that people will have a choice – that if not satisfied, they will move on.

That we are not the only ones in their lives.

That what we make occupies but a tiny portion of people’s attention, enthusiasm, time, and lives.

That as seasoned exercisers of choice and discretion, people are smarter than we often given them credit for.

It reminds us that they consume US .

That they are not OUR audience.

And that if we truly wish to have them think of us, value us, and keeping coming back to us, we’re better off giving them something wonderful, rather than something merely adequate.

Then again, a fresh, divergent, more brave, honest and enlightening perspective is what David Bowie always offered us.


Source: Vanity Fair