Category: Planning

Escape from Fantasy

(In which I afflict the comfortable – and comfort the afflicted).

The value of ‘contrarian’ thinking would seem to be pretty obvious…

From vague philosophies to sure–fire trademarked processes and techniques, there’s no shortage of advice available to us.

But I want to suggest that the starting point for doing what others do not, can not, or dare not to is perhaps much simpler. And that the world already provides us with all the material and resources we need.

 

For all its undoubted advantages, thrills, and benefits, where most of you are located is not where most of your consumers are located:

And yet despite this geographic (and cultural divide) it would seem that marketers don’t have time these days to think about the people they ostensibly serve…

Meanwhile client organisations no longer willing to fund and enable agencies to conduct rigorous research of their own because it isn’t “objective”, far too many planners are no longer in constant, direct, unmediated contact and dialogue with people. 

So now, as Richard Huntingdon has bemoaned, we have a generation of planners who simply do not have the skills to facilitate group discussions – and if they are talking to real people in the real world it’s invariably of the ‘quick and dirty’ kind for pitches or to prove some creative wheeze the client isn’t buying.

The fact of the matter is that we are not like most people.

And relying solely on our self-styled intuition is not a solution.

Research from Ipsos Connect and Thinkbox surveyed 288 advertisers and 795 ‘normal’ people during July and August 201, and shows a significant disparity between advertisers’ assumptions of TV viewing habits and the real figures:

One has to wonder what else we get wrong if we get basic stuff like this wrong.

There is of course a role for intuition and gut in what we do – but creating things based entirely on our personal tastes, behaviours, experiences, assumptions, and preferences is what Bob Hoffman has characterised as “marketing by selfie-stick – narcissism disguised as strategy.”

Time and again we insist on viewing people through the lens of our brand, producing horribly distorted versions of reality.

Google for example – unable to see people other than through the lens of its own search capabilities –  seems to think that all people are “obsessed” about research all their purchases all of the time:

Meanwhile marketing briefs are filled with breathless fictions purporting to be accurate portrayals of our desired audience:

As an aside, one has to wonder why these people would ever need or want our brand. They’ve achieved the absolute zenith of self-actualisation. They’re superheroes, not mortals. What on earth can we offer or promise them that they would have need or desire of?

Certainly our unwillingness or inability to embrace the ordinariness of the people we rely on and need to engage speaks volumes about us.

And if we’re not inventing fantastical superheroes, we’re wielding the airbrush to create the “stock image consumer”:

Blander than bland.  Creatures so one-dimensional that if they turned sideways they’d actually disappear. Devoid of all conflict or anxiety, faces caught in rictus-like grins of vanilla-flavoured delight.  Safe. Inoffensive.  And utterly non-existent.

We are like the prisoners of Plato’s allegorical cave, chained-up, unable to turn our heads. You know the one. The one where a fire burns behind us and puppeteers are casting shadows of objects. Unable to see these puppets, we think the shadows we see on the wall are the real thing. But they aren’t. They are just shadows and approximations of the real thing. That’s us. We think that as customer-centric, customer-serving, customer-delighting marketers we are seeing people. We aren’t. We’re just seeing shadows of people. Distorted. And incomplete.

Or worse, we are conflating our own self-image with that of the customer.

Perhaps it’s because the very act of advertising is an act of confidence – or at least demands the appearance of it – that we’re not exactly oversupplied with humility.

Certainly our appetite for that which bolsters our belief that we are at the centre of things is undiminished.

This, despite the efforts of Byron Sharp et al to rid our world of such persistent, zombie-like ideas.

And the truth that learning about brands and making purchase decisions is for the most part really not that important to most people most of the time still melts some people’s minds.

Not seeing people and making it about us never ends well.

Microsoft’s inability to see beyond itself and its ambitions means that it provides solutions for those lovely men and women of ICE, enabling ICE to “process data on edge devices or utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.” All part of its mission presumably to “help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential”.

Google’s inability to see beyond itself and its ambitions means that it was contracted by the Pentagon to use its AI capabilities to analyse video and still imagery captured by drones, detect and identify “objects of interest” in as many as 38 categories and track individuals as they come and go from different locations. All part of its mission to “do no evil”.

Meanwhile Hushme’s inability to see beyond itself and its ambitions leads it to this:

For our part we can be so keen to make something and make it about us that it can render us utterly deaf to what’s happening around us.

Consider for example, our response to a dangerously divided society:

When we don’t see people all we can ever hope to do is create for audiences that do not exist.

For there is nothing like distance and disconnect to undermine respect, understanding, and empathy.

Exhibit #1:

You only have to attend a focus group to get a true measure of how some of us (too many of us) feel about our current or potential customer. For it is a truth universally unacknowledged that heaping scorn over respondents on focus groups is par for the course. Trust me, I’ve been sitting behind the mirror listening to respondents and with it the condescending, elitist sniping in the backroom for over a quarter of a century. 

Perhaps because respondents are being paid we feel it negates any need for us to have respect or gratitude for them.  And of course there’s invariably some melodramatic rolling of eyes at how much respondents are getting.

Exhibit #2:

It’s not very hard to come across marketers who disagree with David Ogilvy’s advice.

Indeed it is not unusual to come across marketers who suggest that their consumer is a moron. Or as we say in marketing circles “literal”. 

Over the years and decades I have been told:

Clearly swathes of our industry believe that other people are unimaginative, unsophisticated, and incapable of interpretation or decoding. And that we must therefore treat people as empty and passive vessels into whose tiny, simple and grateful minds our messages must be poured.

Unimaginative, unsophisticated, and incapable of interpretation or decoding.

Oh yeah?

So what does this painting represent?

Illiterate peasants and labours who had made the long pilgrimage to Rome and found themselves, at last, inside the city walls at the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo would have known. And Caravaggio knew that they would have known.  Which is why in 1600 he painted The Conversion of Saint Paul.

How dare we dismiss people as being ‘literal’.

Not convincing enough evidence of our careless indifference?

Exhibit #3:

Recall how David Campari went about commissioning some of the most celebrated poster artists in Italy for his campaigns: Leonetto Cappiello, Marcello Dudovich, Adolf Hohensteino, etc.:

And recall the works commissioned by Transport for London that were artworks in their own right:

 

Without wanting to suggest that there was some kind of Golden Age of advertising,  this was advertising that while relaying its message also wished to contribute to the environment. That intuitively understood the notion of value exchange.

We ripple dissolve to the year 2017.

Look at how advertising has given up having any regard for the fact that it exists within and rents out a piece of our public spaces.

Look how it has given up any idea of aesthetic contribution to our environment. At how it’s forgotten the basic notion of value exchange. At how it cares about nothing other than your awareness of it. And your money. At how it is content just to barge in uninvited and shit on our lives.

No wonder São Paulo chose to purge the poison from its already unhealthy urban environment.

One more example.

Exhibit #4:

The fashion industry doesn’t even try and disguise its contempt for people.

Particularly women whom it relentlessly represents as meat puppets – commodified bodies whose role is our gratification.

Or gang-raping.

Or murdering.

Scratch the surface of advertising’s efforts and you’ll too easily find indifference bordering on contempt.

We all know this depressing data:

Whether the ads got worse or the programmes got better – or both – is largely immaterial. The fact is that while we bang on about “creating culture” mass culture is better than us.

It’s more generous, more respectful, more intelligent, more rewarding, more challenging – than the vast bulk of what we as an industry put out.

But so much for afflicting the comfortable amongst us – it’s time to comfort the afflicted.

Operating outside the corporation’s centrifugal forces creative agencies (of all flavours) are uniquely placed to help client companies build bridges to reality.  And the planning/strategy discipline (should it choose to) is uniquely skilled to make that happen.

Opportunity awaits those who do.

So some bridges back to reality.

And we really do love naming and classifying and compartmentalising things. And people.

Labels are of course, seductive. In their pithy, bite-sized memorability they sound like useful summations of and shortcuts to knowledge. But in fact they conceal more than they reveal.

The physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was one of the great minds of humanity and talked about the difference between knowing the name of something and actually understanding it.

He points to this:

And says:

See that bird? It’s a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it’s called a halzenfugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird. You only know something about people; what they call the bird. Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way.”

Labels give the illusion that you mean something specific but in fact you don’t at all. 

This is what Montaigne was hinting at in his Essays when he wrote:

We take other men’s knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle and superficial learning. We must make them our own. We are just like a man who, needing fire, went to a neighbour’s house to fetch it, and finding a very good one there, sat down to warm himself without remembering to carry any back home. What good does it do us to have our belly full of meat if it is not digested, if it is not transformed into us, if it does not nourish and support us?”

Like all jargon, labels are about projecting the illusion of expertise, signalling membership of technocratic elites, and avoiding doing the hard work of actually understanding the subject. They don’t care about truth or insight knowledge or understanding.

Worse, labels dehumanise. And in so doing they too easily undermine empathy. And tolerance and generosity. Which is precisely why merchants of division deploy them with such ruthless and cynical dexterity.

As those most close to the lives of ordinary people and the reality in which they live, we urgently need the help of planners to resist the tired labels, the simplistic classifications and clichéd observations and to make our language more human again.

For the most part we are as removed, sheltered, and alienated from ordinary life in the real world as those attending that annual gathering of 1%-ers we know as Davos.

Time spent in meetings amongst ourselves is not time spent amidst culture. 

We cannot simply subcontract that time to ‘vendors’ and tell them to come back from their exploring and tell us all about it and expect to be injected with an innate, intuitive understanding of the World Out There. We cannot kid ourselves. You do not understand the world. You just understand the words of the debrief presentation.

This is old advice. It is basic, good practice. But let’s not congratulate ourselves too heartily when we rediscover it – we should never have lost it.

We rightly focus on finding or creating the remarkable. But what of all that happens around and outside of those moments?

What of all the space not filled with the extraordinary? The everyday.  The habitual. The unthinking.  The familiar.  The unremarkable. The dull. The uncommented upon. The shabby and the average. The commonplace and the unarticulated. The stuff that reaches no closure. All that does not make it into newsfeeds and struggles to deserve a hashtag. All that is experienced but remains unexamined and unreflected upon. The small gestures and half-formed words. The commonplace. The unconscious rituals. The stuff that fails to surface in surveys and focus groups and search enquiries.

This is the stuff that’s invisible to marketers. It’s the stuff that lies beneath the surface of the more visible moments.

This in other words, is to marketing what dark matter is to the astrophysicist. It’s the stuff that eludes our powers of observation and detection. That does not interact with the electromagnetic force. That does not absorb, reflect or emit light. That cannot be seen. And yet for all that, actually makes up the majority (a full 95.1%) of the universe. And that makes possible the large-scale structures in the universe we can see.

So how do we see it? And, crucially, how do we feel not merely observe it?

But let’s not disappear down the rabbit hole of debating methodologies and tools.

That said…

Journalists, documentary makers, those embedded within communities we wish to understand, artists…. they all offer us new eyes, new perspectives, and new ways of experiencing the reality of our audiences.

For example:

In a world in which three million people around the world are moving to cities every week, Mohsin Hamid’s novel How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia puts us into the shoes of one amongst the millions making the exhilarating and terrifying migration from countryside to city – and with it from tradition to modernity:

If I had one piece of advice for marketing, it would be to dispense entirely with reading those breezily-written, evidence-selective, ego-nurturing books all of your peers are reading. There is more practical, applicable insight in Charles Dickens than there is in anything written by the likes of Gladwell, Godin, Rushkoff, et al.

 

For the more we see real people, real lives, the more we see humanity, the more we are prepared to listen to the stories people have to tell, the more we are prepared to open the windows of our corporate cloisters and let reality blow through, the more we see the muck and joy and pain and striving and dreaming and grafting and hoping and creating… the more we understand it, see it, embrace it and have empathy for it, the greater our chances of creating something of genuine value for them.

Howard Gossage argued that:

Until advertising really believes there is someone out there … we will never develop the personal responsibility towards our audience, and ourselves, that even a ninth-rate tap dancer has. The audience is our first responsibility, even before the client, for if we cannot involve then, what could will it do him?”

And make no mistake. The failure to see people clearly  – and the absence of a personal sense of responsibility towards them – is everywhere:

Why ‘strategy’ does not exist. And everything is strategic

Ever committed to complicating things, Ad- and Marketingland have long liked to distinguish between a process called ‘strategy’ and a thing called ‘execution’. Indeed no less than Stephen King, the co-author of the account planning discipline itself, chose to distinguish between the ‘Grand Strategists’ and the ‘Advert Tweakers’:

At one extreme, there are the “grand strategists”, who are intellectual, aim to see the big picture, are a little bit above the fray, and almost economists.  At the other are the advert- tweakers, who peer myopically at advertisements, conduct groups discussions, justify creative work to sceptical clients, and are almost qualitative researchers”

Bundled up with this distinction between strategy and execution come a number of fellow-traveler assumptions – namely that strategy is theory, while the work is action; that strategy is therefore a means, while ‘the work’ is the ends; that strategy is process, while the work is an actual deliverable. King was speaking in 1988. But the assumptions and their consequences live on.

And from these assumptions it is dangerously easy to get to the assumption that strategy is but a means to work, that strategy serves the work, that strategy’s only value lies in getting to that work, and that strategy has no intrinsic value (being but theory and means) but ‘the work’ does (being actual end deliverables).

This has three undesirable effects.

First, as Richard Huntingdon has powerfully argued, treating strategy merely as means a means to an end encourages us to be pusillanimous in advocating and defending it:

Our ambivalence towards promoting and defending powerful strategy has to change. And our readiness to dumb down an idea to get it through the multiple stakeholders sitting in judgement on a positioning or purpose has to stop. We need to be as protective and proud of our strategic thinking as we are the work we make.”

Second, treating strategy as an exercise in abstraction encourages all kinds of quasi-intellectual abstractions to be indulged in, perpetuating for example, the paraphernalia of brand articulations (pyramids, onions, etc.) that do not even try to imagine what tangible action in the marketplace looks like.

It permits ‘strategy’ to be developed by those with absolutely no nose for and sense of taste in making things in the real world, allowing into the organisation Powerpoint jockeys more comfortable with holding the real world at arms’ length, rather imagining what could come next.

Most corrosively, it encourages and legitimises the silo-ing of disciplines that only realise their true potential when fully and seamlessly collaborating. And it encourages and sanctions building into organisations assumptions of primacy and hierarchy. Both get in the way of the creation of effective solutions. As Ed Catmull, cofounder and president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios has written:

Getting people in different disciplines to treat one another as peers is just as important as getting people within disciplines to do so. But it’s much harder. Barriers include the natural class structures that arise in organisations: There always seems to be one function that considers itself and is perceived by others to be the one the organisation values the most… In a creative business like ours, these barriers are impediments to producing great work, and therefore we must do everything we can to tear them down.”

So let’s rewind and go back to what strategy is. For despite the often tortured and painfully abstract arguments filling the business journals, there are voices of clarity.

Laurence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at Kings College London has argued that strategy is about

Getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest.”

The business thinkers Hamel and Prahalad have contended that:

The goal of strategic intent is to fold the future back into the present. The important question is not “How will next year be different from this year?” but “What must we do differently next year to get closer to our strategic intent?”

The business consultant and author of Good Strategy Bad Strategy Richard Rumelt for his part, has written that:

The core of strategy work is always the same: discovering the critical factors in a situation and designing a way of coordinating and focusing actions to deal with those factors.”

The implication is obvious. In contrast to the depiction of strategy as abstract theory detached from so-called ‘execution’, strategy is a course of action. The distinction between strategy and execution, between theory and practise, between the abstract and the concrete, thinking and doing simply does not exist.

Maintaining that it does exist might serve those who would wish to keep planners or strategists domesticated and compliant, but as Roger Martin professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto suggests, instead we should the thinking of a single continuum of interconnected choices:

We should conceive of the corporation as a white-water river in which choices cascade from the top to the bottom. Each set of rapids is a point in the corporation where choices could be made, with each upstream choice affecting the choice immediately downstream.”

As we make our way along his cascade of choices, there is then, only question that matters – “What shall we do?”

Who we target, what we offer, how we frame the offer, where we distribute it, what price we charge for it, where, when and how we publicise and connect people to that offering, what we look like, how we behave, how we speak, how we interact… They are all choices about courses of action.                                   

So where does this get us to? When so many organisations and their effectiveness are hampered by a self-imposed rift between thinkers and doers, this perspective offers us a way out of the impasse. For if the mark of a strategy is a set of coherent actions driven by intent, it must follow that everything is strategic. Every moment represents a choice as to what to do in the world, and how to do it. And at no point in the process does the engine shift gear from theory to action. Or from abstract thinking to concrete doing. Or, heaven forbid, from ‘strategy’ to ‘creativity’.

In managing organisations and cultures we have then, a choice. We can architect and manage a business’s culture and ways of working in a way that allows for seamless choice cascades. Or not. We can acknowledge the interconnectedness of all things. Or not. We can acknowledge the interdependence of all things. Or not. 

The ambitious marketer whether on the client- or agency-side of the relationship will then need to resist our industry’s muscle memory. He or she will need to resist the pandering rhetoric of “strategy serves the work”, the relegation of strategy as but the disposable, negotiable, and contingent means to something more important, the cordoning off of so-called ‘creativity’ as a specialist discipline, the infantilization of the creative function which allows creatives to get away with being unaccountable for what happens next – (i.e. the consequences and effectiveness of their work), the institutionalised schism between the strategic and the creative processes, the artificial distinction between thinking and doing, the delineation between theory and practice, keeping planners out of the so-called ‘creative process’, keeping creatives out of the so-called ‘strategic process’, permitting the domestication of the planning function, and the assumption that planners are either ill-equipped or uninterested in taking on the most senior of leadership roles within organisations.

Yes. There is much to be resisted.

And coupled with these necessary and overdue acts of constructive resistance, the ambitious marketer will demand more strategic minds (whilst remembering that does not necessarily mean more strategists),  more people with the ability to envision the next step in the choice cascade and the consequences and opportunities of their choices, and more high-performance team players rather mere collaboration lip-service payers.

And perhaps above all the ambitious marketer will recall the words of  Stanley Pollitt – who along with Stephen King was the co-author of the account planning discipline – when he wrote that planning meant “a total agency management commitment to getting the advertising content right at all costs”:

Getting it right being more important than maximising agency profits, than keeping clients happy, or building an agency shop window for distinctive-looking advertising.”

***

Sources

Gary Hamel. & C.K. Prahalad, ‘Strategic Intent’, Harvard Business Review, May-June 1989

Richard Huntingdon, ‘Stand up for strategy

Stephen King,’ Strategic Development of Brands’, Speech at the 20th Anniversary of the founding of Account Planning, APG One Day Event, July 1988

Roger L. Martin, The Execution Trap, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2010

Going beyond ourselves

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Art is one of the prime ways we have of opening ourselves and going beyond ourselves. That’s what art is, it’s the product of the human being in the world and imagination, all coming together. The irrepressibility of the life in the works, regardless of the times, the histories, the life stories, it’s like being given the world, its darks and lights. At which point we can go about the darks and lights with our imagination energised.”

Ali Smith

Going beyond ourselves feels like the most urgent necessity for all those in the marketing community. And yet nothing is no guaranteed to shut out the world and close down minds as the institutional and intellectual paraphernalia with which we surround ourselves. Happily some of us are digging tunnels out into the daylight.

A planner’s guide to reading

12__Reading_young_man

“You adapt yourself to the contents of the paintbox.”

Paul Klee

“What should I read to inform and inspire myself?” I was asked by a planner recently. It’s proven a perennial question, and one I have dodged more often than answered. But I’ve finally given some thought to the kinds of reading we should be doing. For it struck me that if what we read has the capacity to expand our emotional and intellectual resources, then this is a good, necessary, and important question.

The great American writer Annie Dillard was good on the subject of our internal resources. Citing the painter Klee when he said You adapt yourself to the contents of the paintbox” Dillard observes that:

The painter, in other words, does not fit the paints to the world. He most certainly does not fit the world to himself. He fits himself to the paint. The self is the servant who bears the paintbox and its inherited contents.

We can choose how varied our literal or metaphorical paintbox is. The more we invest in it, the more possibilities we have at our disposal. Mastering the technique and craft of our chosen domain is an important first step in developing our paintbox, as is embracing, understanding and appreciating its achievements. But of course we can and must go further. The more we cultivate an interest in what lies outside our domain, the more we open ourselves us to new possibilities, to new and exciting combinations. As the choreographer Twyla Tharp has put it: “Everything is raw material. Everything is valuable.”

So with that in mind, I’d want to suggest that there are seven kinds of reading we (planners) benefit from:

1. That which expands our capacity for empathy

2. That which grounds us in the basics of strategy

3. That which grounds us in the basics of how brands are built

4. That which illuminates the present state of things

5. That which lets us peer into the near-future

6. That which deepens our appreciation for creative instinct and craft

7. That which expands our capacity for persuasive expression

I’ve provided below some humble, and largely subjective serving suggestions, based on reading that’s stayed with me, reading I keep returning to, and more recent reading.

Some observations and caveats:

My point is to provide a point of view on the kinds of reading we benefit from, NOT, heaven forbid, to provide a comprehensive reading list.

Non-fiction does not hold the monopoly on truth and wisdom. The absence of fiction (which arguably contains more truth than any non-fiction) from recommended reading lists for planners is utterly baffling.

The fiction titles included are necessarily very personal and subjective choices – we must each work out our own tastes and preferences.

For the most part I have eschewed those breezily written books usually located in the psychology, business, or marketing sections of bookshops. More often than not they are of dubious methodological integrity. And everybody else has read them.

***

1. That which expands our capacity for empathy

Because without that we fail.

Ali Smith, How to be Both

Kate Atkinson, A God in Ruins

Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday

James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District

Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

Fiction teaches us empathy like no other art form.

(These are just some personal and recent favourites).

***

2. That which grounds us in the basics of strategy

Because there are basics to be learnt.

Stephen Bungay, The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results

Lawrence Friedman, Strategy: A History

Judie Lannon and Merry Baskin’s (ed.) A Master Class In Brand Planning: The Timeless Works Of Stephen King.

Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference And Why It Matters

***

3. That which grounds us in the basics of how brands are built

Because there are basics to be learnt.

ed., Advertising Works: Cases from the Advertising Effectiveness Awards

Les Binet & Peter Field, The Long and The Short of it: Balancing Short- and Long-Term Marketing Strategies

Paul Feldwick, The Anatomy of Humbug: How to Think Differently About Advertising

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

Judith Williamson, Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising

This is the canon. There’s little else to bother with. The rest is just noise.

***

4. That which shines a light on the present state of things

Because insight.

Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology

John Brockman, ed., What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up At Night

Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Terminal Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity

Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Atticus Lish, Preparation For The Next Life

Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism, and the Urge to Fix Problems that Don’t Exist

Zia Haider Rahman, In The Light Of What We Know

Laurence Scott, The Four Dimensional Human: Ways Of Being In The Digital World

Duncan Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age

etc.

***

5. That which lets us peer into the near-future

Because our task is creating new futures for our clients’ businesses.

David Brin, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

Don DeLillo, Zero K

David Eggers, The Circle

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story

Jaron Lanier, Who Owns The Future?

John Markoff, Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground

John Tomlinson, The Culture Of Speed: The Coming Of Immediacy

***

6. That which deepens our appreciation for creative instinct and craft

Obviously.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Harold McGee, McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History, and Culture

Gerhard Richter, The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1962-1993

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull, Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

James Webb Young, A Technique for Producing Ideas

Sophie Lovell, Dieter Rams: As Little Design As Possible

***

7. That which expands our capacity for persuasive expression

Because forward progress depends on convincing others.

All great writing.

***

As I said, my point is to provide a point of view on the kinds of reading we can benefit from, NOT to provide a comprehensive reading list. And when it comes to kinds of reading, I suggest we that range across seven kinds:

1. That which expands our capacity for empathy

2. That which grounds us in the basics of strategy

3. That which grounds us in the basics of how brands are built

4. That which illuminates the present state of things

5. That which lets us peer into into the near-future

6. That which deepens our appreciation for creative instinct and craft

7. That which expands our capacity for persuasive expression

In 2006 the chefs Ferran Adria , Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, and the writer Harold McGee put forward what they termed ‘the international agenda for great cooking’, and while its focus was food, it could well serve as the agenda and manifesto for anyone in the business of ideas and creativity who wishes to nurture and expand their intellectual resources:

We believe that today and in the future, a commitment to excellence requires openness to all resources that can help us give pleasure and meaning to people through the medium of food. In the past, cooks and their dishes were constrained by many factors: the limited availability of ingredients and ways of transforming them, limited understanding of cooking processes, and the necessarily narrow definitions and expectations embodied in local tradition. Today there are many fewer constraints, and tremendous potential for the progress of our craft. We can choose from the entire planet’s ingredients, cooking methods, and traditions, and draw on all of human knowledge, to explore what it is possible to do with food and the experience of eating.”

Happy reading.

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