Category: Other people’s wisdom

The machines are not coming


There is a dark secret lurking behind every critique of technology, and the secret is us. Smartphones, CPUs and algorithms may indeed be inescapable in modern life, but they are ubiquitous because we demand them. We like our newly endless capacity for self-photography. We like our ability to weigh in, to be consulted, everywhere, all the time. We like the friendships we develop online, however odd, thin or ephemeral. So it isn’t the machines that are coming for us. We are coming for ourselves.”

Michelle Dean reviewing Speak by Louisa Hall, Guardian, 21.07.15

Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

Bureaucratic procedures, which have an uncanny ability to make even the smartest people act like idiots, are not so much forms of stupidity in themselves, as they are ways of managing situations already stupid… As a result, such procedures come to partake of the very blindness and foolishness they seek to manage… At their best, they become ways of turning stupidity against itself… But stupidity  in the name of fairness and decency is still stupidity.”

Source: David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

Le fou du roi: What he teaches us about the giving of strategic advice

MP 433; Matejko, Jan (1838-1893) (malarz); Stańczyk; 1862; olej; płótno; 88 x 120 [106 x 135 x 9]

It is in the nature of jesters to speak their minds when the mood takes them, regardless of the consequences. They are neither calculating nor circumspect, and this may account for the “foolishness” often ascribed to them. Jesters are also generally of inferior social and political status and are rarely in a position (and rarely inclined) to pose a power threat. They have little to gain by caution and little to lose by candor—apart from liberty, livelihood, and occasionally even life, which hardly seems to have been a deterrent. They are peripheral to the game of politics, and this can reassure a king that their words are unlikely to be geared to their own advancement. Jesters are not noted for flattery or fawning. The ruler can be isolated from his courtiers and ministers, who might conspire against him. The jester too can be an isolated and peripheral figure somehow detached from the intrigues of the court, and this enables him to act as a kind of confidant…

The foolishness of the jester, whether in his odd appearance or his levity, implies that he is not passing judgment from on high, and this may be less galling than the “holier than thou” corrective of an earnest adviser. One of the most effective techniques the jester uses to point out his master’s folly is allowing him to see it for himself. Rather than contradicting the king, the jester will agree with a harebrained scheme so wholeheartedly that the suggestion is taken to a logical extreme, highlighting its stupidity. The king can then decide for himself that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The jester is in a sense on the side of the ruler. The relationship was often very close and amiable, and the jester was almost invariably a cherished rather than a tolerated presence. This leads to the kindliness of jesters: they could be biting in their attacks, but there is usually an undercurrent of good-heartedness and understanding to their words. If they talk the king out of slicing up some innocent, it is not only to save him from the king’s wrath but also to save the king from himself – they can be the only ones who will tell him he suffers from moral halitosis.”

Source: Beatrice Otto, Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World

You are not certain. You are lost


To never confront the possibility of getting lost is to live in a state of perpetual dislocation. If you never have to worry about not knowing where you are, then you never have to know where you are.”

Nicholas Carr, ‘Welcome to Nowheresville

(To all those convinced of their own convictions, who breathe in humbug and breathe out dogma, who are unable to commit themselves to one moment of self-awareness, and who’d rather trade discovery for stability – that one’s for you)

The building of empires



If buyers of a brand do not think their brand is different or unique (Ehrenberg)…

And if what matters is the creation of ‘mental presence’ (Moran)…

Or ‘memory structures’ (Sharp)….

And if we define this as “The degree to which a given brand comes to consumers’ minds in the context of a particular purchase occasion or consumption occasion.” (Moran)…

Or as “The probability that a brand will be recalled early in a consumer’s consideration set, under a variety of situations and via a variety of stimuli, to the exclusion of competing brands” (Vieceli and Shaw)…

And if this is dependent on “The quantity (how many) and the quality (how fresh and relevant) of the network of brand information in memory, or the brand’s ‘share of mind’” (Romanuik and Sharp)…

And if the brain is not some rigid filing system in which memories reside as fully formed recordings but is something altogether more dynamic and malleable…

And if our brain’s networks of nerve cells or ‘neurons’ are not fixed entities, but are dynamic and continuously modified by experience…

And if thinking, learning, and behaviour all actually change the brain’s physical structure and organization, rewiring the brain, creating and eliminating new connections between neurons (Buonomano & Mezernich, Heilman & Nadeau, Schacter, Svoboda)…

Then perhaps is is not unreasonable to regard our task as the creation, expansion, maintenance, and defence of mental real estate.

And so perhaps it was Judith Williamson (Marxist and academic) who put it better than any brand expert, when she wrote that advertising’s purpose was to create

empires of the mind.”

And if she did put it better than anyone, then perhaps we struggle and jostle for memory.

And perhaps we shouldn’t be quite so shy about the language and metaphors of conquest and battle that have become so unfashionable and politically incorrect in adland.

And if we think of our task as some kind of (benign) synaptic imperialism, perhaps we’ll think beyond the mere act of contact or engagement, and think about what mental infrastructure we leave behind, maintain, and expand.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.

Just a thought.



Buonomano D.V, and Mezernich, MM, ‘Cortical plasticity: from synapses to maps’, Annual Review of Neuroscience, 1998;21:149-86.

Andrew Ehrenberg, Neil Barnard, John Scriven, ‘Differentiation or Salience’, Journal of Advertising Research, November/December 1997

Andrew Ehrenberg, ‘Repetitive advertising and the consumer’, Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 40, No. 6, November/December 2000

Andrew Ehrenberg, ‘What Brand Loyalty Can Tell Us’, Admap, October 2004, Issue 454

Andrew Ehrenberg, Neil Barnard, Rachel Kennedy, Helen Bloom, ‘Brand Advertising As Creative Publicity’, Journal of Advertising Research: Vol. 42, No. 4, July/August 2002

Kenneth M Heilman, MD, Stephen E. Nadeau, MD, and David Q. Beversdorf, MD. “Creative Innovation: Possible Brain Mechanisms” Neurocase (2003)

William Moran, ‘Brand Presence And The Perceptual Frame’, Journal of Advertising Research, October/November 1990

Jenni Romanuik, Byron Sharp, Andrew Ehrenberg, ‘Evidence concerning the importance of perceived brand differentiation, Australasian Marketing Journal 15 92), 2007

Jenni Romanuik, Byron Sharp, ‘Where knowledge of your brand resides: the Pareto share of brand knowledge’, in Report 44 for Corporate Sponsors, 2008, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science

Jenni Romanuik, Byron Sharp, ‘Using known patterns in image data to determine brand positioning’, international journal of market research, Vol. 42, No.2, 2000

Jenni Romanuik, Andrew Ehrenberg, ‘Do brands lack personality?’ Report 14 for Corporate Members, March 2003

Jenni Romanuik, Byron Sharp, ‘Conceptualizing and measuring brand salience’, Marketing Theory, Volume 4(4), 2004

Daniel Schacter, The Seven Sins of Memory

Daniel Schacter, Searching for Memory

Byron Sharp, How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know

Julian Viecli, Robin Shaw, ‘A Model of Brand Salience’, in Mark Uncles, ed. Perspectives on Brand Management, 2011

Judith Williamson, Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising