Who cares about free will?

Noam Chomsky asked a question on free will.

This blog post is my response to Tom Rhodes who responded to a short piece I wrote in Marketing. Here is Tom’s response. My initial article – Why Marketers should beware the rise of Neuro-B*llocks in Marketing is  here . Thanks Tom, I hear you and not a bad summary of my article at all. I am not sure even if we disagree on much really?

Just to be clear it is not as if I don’t believe in cause and effect – determinism.  In fact I think marketers may have a problem with this see here.

Determinism exists in fact, it always has, but is it compatible with free will?  Or is what you doing right now simply a consequence of the big bang?

What I think some neuro-marketers sometimes fail to grasp is that our minds are products of society and not just physical entities i.e. biology. They may fail to understands determinism as being caused by history, politics and economics.

We are both objects and subjects.

And in a sense although our minds and thoughts are private creations (you can’t hear me think can you? Please say no) our thoughts are effected by what happens to us within society and our individual interpretation of those events which are both private and once again according to our personal interpretation of  the norms of our culture. So do we own our thoughts can we make choices. Many neuroscientists say no and many Philosophers say yes – See Dennett v Harris. If you were looking for an easy answer  I am afraid we are still stuck – the meaningless universe didn’t come with one – damn.

Their debate is the best in town. Dennett even pulls out the slam-dunk of a comment regarding Harris’ work – ‘Not even wrong” – that was uncalled for by the way.  In fact some of his comments do not cover him in glory especially as they are friends and 2 of the remaining 4 horseman along with Dawkins.

Anyway when it comes to marketing rather than talk about say how a product or brand fits into one life today in modern culture – there maybe a tendency for modern-day marketers instead to focus on what effect advertising has on the material brain (at least in a lab) rather than its immaterial thoughts. Not how do we explain a benefit say but how do we trigger an emotional response like that of love in the amygdala.

They’re mad for the amygdala aren’t they Tom? We have all see the amazingly coloured fMRI scans haven’t we in the press  with captions like –  chocolate just like sex – drinking coke just like meeting your best friend and so on. All out of social context. It’s all what and no why?

Why even improve products at all – just make the advertising or brand stories better as long as the amygdala lights up we are happy –  we are home and dry right?

So marketers could be led to think that if an ad (or brand story) lights up the brain in the same place as love or any other desired emotion then bingo. But importantly that does not understand emotions in context that only humans can really do. It is under valuing what it means to be human and have emotions. It is like the common idea today that people love brands, They don’t. People are not even half as loyal to brands as marketers would like them to be-  see Byron Sharp.

And yes it does scare me – not because it is unsexy – but because the end conclusion of writers (who I really enjoy reading btw) like Sam Harris and Susan Blackmore. Which is we can’t really have moral responsibility.  That we are not really author of our actions and their logic seems very good, doesn’t it? And why would they make their cases as Chomsky points out anyway?

In times where people have no faith in human agency or progress  and where people don’t trust others or even themselves it seems these ideas have traction.

Today way too often humans are seen as viruses with legs or only motivated by self-preservation or greed.  We live in times where human agency and potential is not celebrated,  so to abandon  free will and the subjective quality of humans is more in line with already fashionable thinking that scientific fact.

So what if nobody is really responsible for their actions – not really really. Is that a moral problem for how we organise ourselves in society – particularly say in law or even in marketing agencies – why should anyone really get promoted rewarded or fired?

So I think there needs to be more dare I say philosophical discussion about whether we should treat people as zombies or autonomous decision makers.

Has neuroscience added that much to the ancient philosophical debate on persuasion? Well, yes, yes it has let’s be clear about that –  but it’s easy misinterpretation may hinder more than it clarifies if people (what they call consumers) are viewed as biological objects rather that thinking subjects.

And way more importantly the effect that fMRI scans will have on treating brain diseases is and will continue to be phenomenal.  In fact I think its effect will be more on treating humans as objects than subjects, if that makes sense.

Finally freedom arises from the ability to reason and overcome impulses, to be able to think twice. So freedom is not behaviour that is undetermined but actions that have been chosen over others and that one is responsible for. Freedom is linked to our ability to think rationally something that much of advertising backed by neuroscience and cognitive scientist are fashionably saying we lack.  If we were never rational and reasoning we would indeed lack free will giving way to impulses.a ad never learning from our mistakes. The reason why it is worth defending (choice and free will) is because it is freedom and choices and improvements that creates a better world.

So early beer on a Friday or do more work and stick to my drink free January?

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New Business Equity and Value – learn some poker #2

The chances of what happened above is 7%,  similar to the chance of closing a cold lead if you are a new business fish. Also a good lesson in humility.

In poker there are two terms that a new player should seek to understand ‘value’ and ‘equity’. And they are related.  I am going to explain what poker players mean when they use these terms and then what new business fish can learn from these terms and how agencies can use them to improve their new business processes.

Value in poker is most simply defined the strength of your hand.  The stronger the hand the more value it is. Having two aces in your hand is very strong (the strongest) for example.  Then poker payers will talk about betting for ‘value’.  This mean you are not bluffing, pretending to have a hand, but really have one.  You are trying to get someone to pay to see your winning hand. So you’ll hear poker players so I got good value or I failed to get value.

Equity in poker mean the chances of your hand winning in a pot – it is related to value often described as expected value (ev). This is the beginning of understanding that poker gets very complicated.

A player needs to calculate how much to bet based on what he believes is the equity of his hand v the equity of his opponent(s) hand(s). The complication is that you don’t know the exact cards the other player(s) have so you have to work out their likely hands. Guessing. And people like buyers lie sometimes.

The thought process goes – if he is betting £x and £x is a lot that must mean he has a decent hand.  I wonder if his hand is a better hand than mind.

If I raise and he re-raises the answer is probably yes – or is he bluffing because he thinks I have a weak hand and I am just trying it on i.e. bluffing.

If I just call his bet and let’s say a heart comes he may then hit his flush and I am definitely behind, whoops. What are the chances of a heart coming though? Without explaining poker – the odds are approx 36% just over 1 in 3.

Or I could pretend to have the flush.  If I pretend to have the flush and bet big and he really does have a flush then I lose. What should I do? That is poker in a nut shell making decisions based on the information you have and wondering about the relevance of the info you don’t. Life aye!

So  as long as a poker player can put his opponent on a range of starting hands he can start working out his chances to win and how much he should invest in a pot. E.g. – If the chances of him improving his hand to a flush as above is 36% and the pot is currently £100 and to stay in the pot he has to bet £50 – is that a good bet or not?  If the best is £20? What if it is £75 to stay in the pot? Humm what do you think?

There are so many variable missing it makes me cringe like how much money does each player have – will you opponent believe you and fold if the flush comes.  Or if the flush comes will he not believe you and you can bet even more knowing you have the winning hand – what poker players cal the nuts.

The situation where if you improve your hand and can keep betting and getting called by the fish is called implied odds.  I think agencies think about implied odds all the time – the what if factor – you have to be in it to win it cliché.

Not to mention what is an agency’s cost of sale – do meetings and pitches cost time and money?

So how does some of this relate to agency life and new business?

In poker there are good and bad starting hands – very good hands include obviously two aces, two kinds, two queens, than Ace King – poker players call these premium hands – they are very valuable. And then any pair is good as is connecting cards i.e. jack and a ten, king and queen and so on.

What is a starting hand in new business, well it is a bit like a lead isn’t it?  Where do leads comes from? Well they come from various forms of marketing and relationships.  I think premium leads are referrals from client that you have worked with for a long time and have achieved great things for. These are the nuts.  Reduce those variables and the lead weakens – i.e. we havent worked for them  for very long and or we didn’t really do good work. The leads loses some of it’s starting value.

Then add to this who is the person that is referred to you – do they have  decision-making ability – does he have the sorts of problem(s) you can solve, have they tried to solve that problem before – why does it keep coming back, what is their budget? If they don’t know their budget how will they find it out for you?

Next there are leads that are incoming via PR or networking.  I know they are not normally clumped together.  But if a Mkt Dir reads something you wrote in a publication or in a book that you wrote and thinks he’d like to meet that is a good lead. Similarly if you speak at an event and a Mkt Dir in the audience likes what you said and approaches you regarding business then that could be a good lead too.

Now how do we know these are good leads – well you’d have to look at their equity or expected value – What is they likely hood of a referral closing in your business? My experience is that many agencies tell me that they close between 50 – 85% of referrals.  And they know on average a piece of business is worth in revenue say £150K and GP is 50% so £75K. and most client stay with then for 3 years – so it has a total value of £225K over three years, that is their life time value (LTV).  How much effort would you put into this lead?

Lower down are cold generated leads that come from e-mail, cold calling and DM. What are the odds of you meeting one of this leads and closing business with them? This is a bone of contention between me and some of my peers. Not least because there are so many variables to be added in.  The quality of the proposition in the email/ cold call or DM piece.  Perhaps the prospect does know something of the agency already?  They still have value – implied value – but you need to qualify these harder against more variables unlike the referral.

However in general in my experience I reckon a cold lead on average closes today about one in 16 times and that is being kind – I’ve seen 1 in 50.. But use your own figures – how many people who you would class as cold leads did it take you to close last year?  So what is the expected value of one of these leads – the prize can stay the same at £225K..  Well simply it is 1 in 16 or just over 6%.

This is where new business and poker alike get tricky.  What if that Marketing Director is seeing other agencies and one of those is the referred agency – the nuts. What then?  You have 6% (on average) and they have between 50% and 85% chance of winning?  What now?

How would you find out? Could you find out? Could you fold anyway even if you knew?  Your boss pays you or at least praises you per lead – you look good getting on a pitch list – that is your job right. Win or lose pitches they look good, right. So could you fold even if you even knew you were in a 6% position?  In poker it is rare to be as bigger dog as 6% see video above.  And just so you know the 6 per-centers do happen – ever the optimist – ever the fish. Remember prospects need fish for their procurement departments pitch list.

So having some ideas of your equity  / chances may help your agency spend time and resources that are valuable in other areas.  Or do as good poker players do and simply wait for the right hand in the right position and then play it and fold the weak hands.

The reason today some agencies focus on content is that they have realised that incoming leads are more valuable than ones they get via outgoing prospecting.  But the problem is they have stripped out too many variable.  The referrals equity is based on more than just out-going verses in-coming or  pull v push marketing leads.

The value of a lead is in  strength of the relationship between the prospect and the person who refered them – i.e. your client. E.g. Your super client refers another Mkt Dir to you who have been buddies for 5 years and they trust each other – Bingo – the nuts.  A marketer reads trade press and asks your agency in based on a PR piece to pitch against the above referred agency – fish alert!. You are pitch bait!

There are hundred of hands / new business leads you could look at this way.  In new business the way you play your starting hand i.e. meeting one is so important you need to find out where you are in the hand? Why have they come to you – why don’t they have a favourite agency already what happened to the incumbent – what are they expecting from you – why couldn’t the last agency do that?  And do you believe their answers?  Remember you are trying to either improve the equity of your chances to win the business or find a fold.  And you have to do this nicely and in a polite manner too, so it doesn’t sound like an inquisition.

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Creativity in Ad Agencies is now Banned.

images-1I  believe that brands should put in their ads what ever they want, yes literally.

I know some may say what about racist or misogynistic ads or ads that lie. Well I think we’ll cope.  If brands want to make racist advertising more fool them. It’s not a real problem is it? Are we expected to believe that marketers are sitting around saying in hushed tones, if only we could make racist or sexist advertising.

As for ads that lie – well consumers are probably smarter than you think and lying in advertising has never made a brand prosper has it? Chewits – as chewy as a 7 story building. Let’s not confuse lying with poetic licence. Red Bulls gives you wings – opps!

There is a ridiculous almost Orwellian amount of censorship in the advertising business today as I wrote about here in the light of the events in Paris and Charlie Hebdo.

However,  I really do disagree with much in the current trend of advertising.   In particular I loathe the trend for FMCG brands  and their holding companies to use advertising to highlight social ills. Brands are attempting to become social movements.  Brands today now feel it is their place to moralise and  tell people how to live.

In the past I’d wager it was their role to create quality products and find creative ways to advertise them to us, in the hope we’d buy them. Today this is becoming old hat.

My thoughts on what has happened is that the death of politics has left a vacuum. Where historically people may have got their moral and political beliefs  from some affiliation to a political party, an ideology, trade union or even the church. Today these institutions are defunct. They are crumbling in front of our eyes, daily. Ideologies are dead seen as over formulaic and dogmatic.

Recent examples of the crumbling can be seen in David Cameron refusing to take part in a televised political debate unless the Green Party is involved.  The Pope changing his mind on the use of condoms – is he even a Catholic anymore – do bears shit in the toilet?

Even what may seem like political alternatives popping up momentarily are really just the death throes of the various end of the spectrum of political thinking.  On one end the crisis in confidence in the market and conservative thinking can be seen in the thinking of Nigel Farage and UKIP.  And on the other end the death of the left, new labour and welfarism can be seen in the thinking of the ‘revolutionary’ Russell Brand and commentator Owen Jones.

Today there is a huge lack of trust in almost every institution that would have been seen once as an agent of social change.  And it has spread and deepened into our culture as if it was always there. People don’t trust many pillars of society which they used to – doctors, big business / CEOs, school teachers, bankers, lawyers, the local shop keeper, advertising (of course) the lolly pop man even their neighbours.  In short people don’t trust each other and worse of all we now don’t even trust ourselves.

Historically, the  purpose of a business is to make the best possible products to compete in a market. This required investing in long-term R & D – launching new and better products to stave of competition and grabbing up market share as competition sets in.  Bobbing and weaving through price wars caused by incoming competitors in order to accrue profits for its shareholders.

Today big brands would like to be social enterprises, doing good, being sustainable, ridding the world of racism, homophobia, misogyny and of course trading fairly (yeah right). So today we have – Unilever sponsoring world peace day. Proctor and Gamble  sponsoring your mum. And more recently IKEA would like to teach parents how to bring up their children.  Hands up – who reckons it will all be sorted by lunch-time next week?

These modern objectives seem plainly disingenuous to me. Although I still ague that brands can do what they want with their marketing budgets.

Although I dislike their bullshit, just as bad is that these follies are distraction from their purpose of business too.  So I think the consumer loses twice.  Being lied to (which we can probably handle) and resources being diverted away from the purpose of the business toward  social enterprising. Case in  point would be The Co-operative Group  who whilst pursuing two objectives: improved profitability with an explicit mission to do social good – ‘Ungovernable’ was the verdict of the Co-op’s resigning chief executive, Euan Sutherland.

I’d much rather they got on with the business of producing better goods and we’ll work out how we should live our lives and deal with the ills that society faces. I for one would be grateful for cheaper and better products than moralising on my parenting habits. Can’t you see Daddy is busy! I’d go as far to say I am grateful for the nappies, shower gels, ice cream, beans and swedish lamps. You make ‘em, I’ll buy ‘em.

But if big brands insist on moralising to people I think eventually they stop.  Own brands are not that inferior anymore and they don’t moralise, they provide VFM and they (and we) know it and  people switch easier than brand consultancies may have led you to believe. In fact own label have overtaken branded good for the first time see here and here.

What underlines much of this moralising is CSR (Corporate Social responsibility).  This has led to more and more regulation imposed on how businesses can act in the name of responsibility.  Many of these restriction cause businesses to lack innovation or creativity. And this is where it leaks into ad land in my opinion.

As the advertising industry has failed to oppose any of the bodies that increasingly censor advertising in the name of responsibility they have began to reduce the creativity in their output.  The rules of advertising now impinge on almost every market, not just cigarettes, booze, condoms, gambling (what else is there in life) financial services, food content and kids toys but the knock on effects all advertising.

When ideas are restricted. Creativity is throttled.  And worse still output is today self censored with fear. Not just fear of the censors – is that person drinking beer and looking sexy? Sorry you can’t do that. It’s Irresponsible – but more interestingly fear of offending people.

Advertisers no longer seem to  trust the British public to make their own minds up or to be able to handle creative advertising. So bland is the order of the day and risk taking is a modern taboo.

As I write this The Drum’s TV ad of the day is for Young’s.

It even has a cat narrating. I gather is a self-imposed rule of today’s TV advertising that all ads should contain an animal? Can’t trust people but we can trust animals?

And whoever squeezes fresh lemon juice on oven cooked, frozen, out of the box, piece of cod? Then there are no chips! Are you kidding me? What is happening to this country – I’ve gone all Al Murray haven’t I? This country! Both man and women drinking white wine, whatever next.

Young’s product is an alternative to going to the chippy isn’t it?  Isn’t that the brief – How do we get people to feel they are getting as good as going to the chippy?

Dare I suggest by putting fucking chips on the plate. Shouldn’t the fish be coming out of the oven as if wrapped in fish and chip paper. People fighting over the salt and vinegar. Laughing at the squirty-fart noise caused by the emptying of the ketchup bottle, someone dropping theirs on the floor, the cheeky cat can have that bit. I mean come on – sat at a black lacquered table eating frozen fish and salad?

And that is the heart of advertising’s problem. Despite that there are probably very little rules and regulation that Young’s have to worry about, the output is dreary. And that is ad of the day they tell me.  You know you have problems with I can rip an ad up. A man who oozes a lack of creativity from his pores. The surrounding culture of fear, distrust and lack of faith in ordinary people leads to mediocre becoming excellence.

If advertising is so easily criticised by me and the general public for its lack of creativity it has to be in its darkest hour.  Because creativity is at the corner-stone of advertising. Boot that away and it’s all rubble.  Look they’ll say there is nothing creative here, it is all smoke and mirrors. We don’t need creative people and their high salaries at all. And so the rot sets in – crowd sourcing to make ads or use production companies – who needs Creatives. And they’re right – anyone can do bland can’t they?

Brands and agencies need to be much, much braver. They need to challenge this climate of mistrust of people.  They need to free themselves from the shackles of regulation and stick two fingers up to the censors.  And most of all they must trust in themselves again, that they understand people and have faith in them too. Because the consumer is just like you, it is you, and you’re alright you are.

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New Business Fish – learn some poker #1


There are some poker terms that I think agencies could learn from, particularly those with tasked with business development.

Today’s word is fish

It is a term to describe a poker player that is clueless, sloppy, makes silly mistakes and losses money.  It is often said that if you don’t know who the fish is around the table it is probably you.

The term fish is used because the better players are looking for a fish to reel in, to get value from. Value is another poker term that roughly translates to money. Which I will return to in another post.

The phrase I like is ‘a fish is the last thing to know it is in water.’

A fish in poker is recognisable in a few ways. They tend to call a lot instead of raising or folding. They tend to play hands they shouldn’t especially out of position. Position is important in poker and I am not going to explain it here because it may confuse rather than enlighten. Another phrase to which I will return. Position can be important in new business.

Finally stronger poker players will try to keep the fish around for as long as possible.  They will never berate the play of the fish. If anything they will say they are just being unlucky or on a bad run.  Berating them will make them leave the table rather than re-buying and carrying on – what a fish! Don’t kill the fish for God’s sake.

I am about to compare some new business and agency folk to fish – before I do it is worth noting we are all fish sometimes.  Once you know how to recognise one you may well recognise it in yourself – I see it me. Anyway stage one is recognition then move to correction mode – stop being a fish! Even great pokers will berate themselves with “I’m such a fish today.” Most often it’s because they couldn’t resist calling a bet rather than folding their hand, they just had to get involved just like a fish. Be brave call yourself a fish now and then and importantly learn from it – don’t be a fish forever.

Okay, how do recognise a new business person who is a fish?  Well, like poker players they get involved in too many pots.

They play all their hands / leads. Rather than evaluation some over others.  They don’t find out sufficient information to help them do this. Poker players do this via betting. E.g. I bet £100 my hand is better than yours – that gives out info if that person raises you then they are answering you question – I doubt it buddy. And so on.  Good poker players muck most of their starting hands unlike fish.

New Business people who are fish can’t work out where they are in the sales / buying process.  In poker you are trying  to work out if you are ahead or not. Fish can’t do that – they guess – they make assumptions because they don’t ask great / tricky questions that get to the heart of the matter.

In new business we are so lucky we can ask questions, you can do this in live poker too but people may not answer and people lie in poker nearly as much as buyers do in new business.

That is why new business folk need to get brilliant at asking question that keep buyers straight. “How did you decide to come and meet us of all the agencies in the UK?” “What went wrong with your last agency then and how do you know that will not happen to you again?” You are, like in poker, looking for a way to fold your hand so you don’t waste your agencies time and money.

You can tell a fish in new business if they tell you they have loads and loads of short-term leads or RFIs, or briefs being answered.  But hasn’t won a piece of business for ages but got close loads of times – or so they think.

Buyers are like stronger poker players they will keep fish around them because they need them for various things.  Fish can be called upon to answer briefs and get prices from.  The agency that the fish works for goes into the buyers column C and D – these columns are used for price checking and keeping procurement happy – The buyers / marketer usually just buy from column A or B.

You can tell a fish because they think it is a good thing that prospects keep coming back for more stuff or congratulation them on coming second. Don’t kill the fish!

Finally new business fish fall in to the problem solver bracket or relationship builder bracket – they don’t challenge buyers and they cost agencies money and time.

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Advertising is not fit to lick Charlie’s boots

(Pokerstars banned TV ad)

I have been concerned about the censorious nature in Britain for a while.  Today in some Orwellian nightmare Liberal intolerance is often  wrapped up as tolerance.  I hear passionate speeches of  “We will not tolerate despicable views in this country.” That isn’t tolerance folks that is intolerance.

It doesn’t mean you can’t dislike someones view – be it a comedy show, a political party, a TV ad or a book. You may feel you need to protest about it but censoring something and calling for material to be banned is another matter.

The answer is more open debate where people can say what they like when they like. Let’s get ideas out in the open. Let people say as they see fit and take responsibility for their ideas and we’ll judge them accordingly. And we’ll make our own minds up thank-you very fucking much.

Freedom of speech is about the very things you detest.  That is it purpose  You’re supposed to hate what some people think and say – what you’re not supposed to do is go running to censors every time you or worse still you feel others are offended.

I’ve noticed more and more how those calling for censorship do so others behalf. It is never them that is offended is it? They can handle the offensive views but think about the man on the Clapham Omnibus he can’t handle it they say.

Of course I am writing this piece in the light of the killing of 12 journalist at the Paris bases satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.  They were killed because they offended Islam mocking the prophet Muhammed regularly, including the reprinting of Danish cartoons in 2006 and hilariously once naming Muhammed as the editor in one issue.

However, this is a fairly easy one for most people in the West to agree with, in terms of protecting a publications right to freedom of speech. Largely because they agree, so it is no big shakes to them. Defending ideas you believe in is child’s play.

The empathising campaign has begun with Je Suis Charlie – a Spartacus style battle cry that is hard not to relate to. I personally hope Paris continues to stands tall and is able to live without fear and go about its business unaffected. Although this seems unlikely in the short-term, people are made of strong stuff.  As long as we keep our nerve, normal service will be resumed.

So as I see twitter alight with ‘Je Suis Charlie’ I think about how much freedom of speech, bravery and contrarian views exists in advertising today. The answer is not a lot.

In fact I don’t think advertising is fit to lick Charlie’s boots let alone say they are one.

Advertising is not fearless and brave today – it is timid, bland and full of servitude at the best of times.  I have not seen regular campaigning about the censorious rules and regulation dished out on advertising be it by the ASA, Of Com, The Portman Group and of course Clearcast. In fact advertising funds them – is there anything more ugly and condescending than self censorship?

If advertising was Charlie they would argue and debate more fearlessly with their censors not sign up to them.  They’d find better ways to make clients do brave creative work and when they self censor they’d fight back not nod and agree.

The more freedom we have the more creative we can be. Today advertising does not believe in freedom of speech, nor is it brave and it certainly is not Charlie.

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Don’t let your prospects die of credential over dose.


This is an elaboration and variation on one of my favourite stories that agency front people should be able to relate to.


Ever sat in front of a prospect asking for creds, then this is for you.

It demonstrates to my mind very clearly the mistakes that agencies make in first meetings, which are often called creds meetings. Creds being the problem.

It also shows the mistake that prospects have too. It’s often a case of sellers don’t know how to sell and buyers don’t know how to buy.

No wonder we are at a stage when agency tenure is at lowest ebb ever. Yes, ever. Never before have clients spent so little time with agencies – just over 2 and half years. is average tenure.

Agency folk (on demand) spend most of their time proving their credentials rather than talking about the potential problem the clients may have.

The Story

A man is strolling along the pavement dreaming away about his tea, when he stumbles and trips falling in front of a bus.  Most inconvenient to those commuters on the 73 but more so to his immediate health.  A witness calls an ambulance.

Mean while passers well versed in modern British etiquette walk on by, concerned about their own teas and whether they’ll catch their tube before the rush begins.

Eventually a few stop to pay attention. They calm the man with the re-assurance that the ambulance had been called and someone covers the flat-out man with their coat.

The ambulance arrives and two suitably dressed ambulance men approach the man, they kneel by his side and ask if he can talk. And bizarrely he says he can and he’d like to ask them some questions. The ambulance men nod that he may.

“How long have you been qualified medics?”

“Err.. ages.” says one “3-4 years” says the other.

“What does ages mean?”

“Since I graduated back in 2000, so 15 years.”

“That’s a long time, do you enjoy it?”

“Yes…most days.”

“What some days you don’t?”

“Well it can be stressful at times and the pay isn’t all that to be honest. But in the main it’s an interesting job.”

“How many times have you looked after a man hit by the 73 bus?”

“Does it have to be the 73 bus?”

“I’d prefer it but if not just give me a similar case study, preferable involving a man and a bus.”

“Well, I have done a few and they have all worked fine bar one I am glad to say.”

“What happened to the one?”

The other medic interrupts “Can I ask you some questions now pleeeease?”

“In a minute but first I’d like to know more about where you were trained you seem very new, what job did you have before and how many times you have saved someones life?”

“Well I was trained at Guys Hospital.”

“Oh really, who by – what was the name of the trainer?”

The questions are ceaseless until the man passes away – the ambulance men refused to take control of the credential demands of the dying man and he passed away.

How many prospects do you know that ended up in a worse condition than when they met you because you spent the whole entire hour answering credential style questions? Making sure you looked like the agency that are about to fire after 2 and half years of un-inspiring work.

But how did you get to that creds meeting in the first place? They must have invited you in, right?

Would they have invited in an agency that wasn’t qualified?

Couldn’t you have sent creds in advance?

Blimey they’re so many resources for the prospect to find out about your agency, websites, intermediaries sites, brochures, YouTube it’s creds, creds, creds. It’s not that creds aren’t needed, it’s that they don’t help in meeting #1.

Your first contact with a prospect is still the most important in my opinion and you’re there to diagnose not to show your creds or prescribe answers.

You’ll demonstrate your credentials by the quality of the questions you ask not the answers you give?  Can you wiggle your toes? How many fingers am I holding up? Are you allergic to penicillin?

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Myth Busting #4

Not sure if this is really a myth, it’s more of something I hear way too often. That people are more stupid than they used to be. Bullshit!

I can see how tempting it is to say that but older generation have always been disparaging about the younger ones.  It’s pretty much a rite to passage I think. You’ll eventually find yourself saying “God people are stupid today!” or “Kids today!” etc. Well, they’re not stupider/ I’ll grant you that they’re frustrating sometimes.

Much of this evidence comes from The Flynn Effect named after none other than James Flynn who is essentially a moral philosopher who gives the TED talk in the above clip.

What is interesting is how exactly we are smarter than past generation.  We are smarter in the sense of general knowledge and fundamentals like maths, english and science.  Daniel Dennett notes that if you ask someone a question today you are more likely to get a scientific answer than past generation would have given.

Which reminds me of the idea that in the future everyone will understand complex ideas like E=mc(squared) and probably know the short cut of how to do the proper square symbol too. In the say way many people know Newton’s three laws of motion. or at least the 3rd one – ‘for every action there is an equal an opposite reaction.’

We’re also better today at dealing with logic and hypothetical abstractions or what you might call thought experiments.  We are more philosophical than pragmatic when compared to older generations. Is that a good thing? Hard to tell isn’t it? Lots of navel gazing seems to occur these days if you ask me. Hs that lead current generation to be very risk-averse, verging on dull?

The area we have become less advanced in some way Flynn notes is the political arena and the understanding of  history. So we lack moral reasoning based on political and or historical understanding of situations. I wonder if this will be corrected in some way or will continue to deteriorate?

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Myth Busting #3

This is one of my favourites bit of bunkum. I particular like it because an amateur took down the establishment.

And that establishment was American new-age psychology and if ever there was a world of bullshit that is it.  This post is a precis of the Guardian’s article on the matter here.

The myth was that to flourish as a person, be happy to you and me, rather than languish, be sad to you and me – there is a magic ratio of happy or positive thought to negative or sad ones.

No shit Sherlock you might think.  Are ‘they’ saying that you are happier when you have happy thoughts?  You are sad when you have sad thoughts?  Pretty good those psychologists aren’t they? Seneca would turn in his ancient grave – the way you think about an event determines how you feel about that event. Keep up psychologists!

What was far worse that the truism was that the psychologists behind it got the ratio down to 4 decimal places.   Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada paper entitled Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing, stated that one should have 2.9013 positive thought to 1 negative one.

Of course it became known as the 3 to 1 rule and often drifted in to sales training manuals including Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human. In fact it has been cited in 350 academic journals and rarely had it been questioned. And formed the basis of many a self-help book.

Then up steps a 53 British amateur psychologist Nick Brown. He’s ex IT and taking a post grad course in psychology in East London (boredom no doubt) and he sits through the lecture on the 3 to 1 rule and thinks errr… I can smell something.. I smell bullshit.

Brown had a hunch that many psychologist would not be great at maths, most aren’t even all that good at psychology and their must be some complex maths behind this idea, four decimal places and all that.   Although Brown didn’t really rate himself at maths, despite having a degree in Engineering and Computer Science from Cambridge.

He picked through the maths and found that it contained no data it was simply self-referential. Stay with me. He struggled (who wouldn’t) with some of the maths so sent his thinking on this matter via e-mail to a larger brained person called Sokal. His biog is worth reading.He’s a bit of a bullshit spotter and hoaxer himself.

Anyway eventually Sokal looked at Brown’s e-mail on the 3-1 theory and the maths behind it and in 10 seconds smelt the same aroma Nick had.

Over time the pair worked on a paper dismissing the evidence of the 3-1 theory and after some issues getting it published because this theory was such a big deal to the Positive Thinking brigade led by psychologist like Martin Seligman President of the American Psychologist Association.

So there you have there is no magic ratio of positive to negative thought that determine whether you will ‘flourish’ as a person or not.  So don’t beat yourself up – some days we is happy other we is not. Worrying about happiness I think is pretty futile anyway. I agree with John Stuart Mill who said “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”

Happiness is a by-product not a goal.

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Myth Busting #2


This is one of my favourite myths, trainers and the like often like to talk about how important tone of voice and body language is.  And to prove their point they drag poor old Albert Mehrabian into to do their heavy lifting.

Lots of current myths that enter marketing agencies are backed up by the bastardising of a quality piece of work. Its they rise of scienticism in some form or another.

And we are all susceptible to them but to my mind being gullible to people trying to fox you isn’t the end of the world.  In fact it’s the most forgivable of traits in my book. So if you’ve been tricked just shrug it of, don’t cling to it, simply move on. We all believe things that aren’t true that’s just the way it is.

Anyway back to the myth – it originates from Albert’s book written in 1971 called Silent Messaging and it is all about non verbal communications.  How much of communication is determined by tone of voice and body language?

The part of the analysis that is seized on is that in certain situations non verbal communication is the most important part by miles and Albert wrote the split as 55% / 38% / 7% = body language / tone of voice / actual words.

Now this is where we have to tread a tad carefully and the video by creative works above does go a tad far to prove its point. Because there is value on non vernal communications but the ratio split will vary widely depending on so many factors like do you know the person and the emotional volatility of the situation.  Which is why Joe Navarro who is often considered the world authority on reading body language was so successful. He was interviewing people (spies) in very stressful situations on behalf of the FBI. And so in many of these situation non verbal comms were more telling than verbal comms. And who’d argue with Joe? Don’t lie now!

It is the volatility or emotional pressure that someone is under that will often determine how important the non verbal cues are.  They are always some what of a factor but when the body langauge is in conflict with the words than this is the only time that non verbal communication trumps the verbal by miles. The classic I asked him if he still loved me and he said “yes” but his body and tone said “meh”.

That’s the Mehrabian message:  we get most of our clues of the emotional intent behind people’s words from non-verbal sources.  And when the two are in conflict, we believe the non-verbal every time.

But much of our everyday communication is with words so we have to remember content as well as style when presenting for example and of course we can cope perfectly well without non verbal when we read blogs for example.

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Myth Busting # 1

So there you have it, you can fold a piece of paper more than 7 times. Err brilliant.

I am starting a new series of blog posts because there are some many annoying myths circulating our business these days or BS as I like to call it.

I’m going to pretty much plagiarise others hard work to be fair that debunk some of these myths. My goal is to make you worry a little bit less about not being a neuroscientist, psychologist or mind reader – which it feels like are the required qualification to work in advertising, marketing or new business these days.

I am going to cover the work by Albert Mehrabian which is  often interpreted as 7%-38%-55% Rule, for the relative impact of words, tone of voice, and body language when speaking.  

Also the myth that to be happy you need to have a certain ratio of positive thoughts to negative ones if your ratio was greater than 2.9013 positive emotions to 1 negative emotion you were flourishing in life. If your ratio was less than that number you were languishing. Often referred to as the 3 to 1 ration.  

I’ll have a little poke at left side and right side brain thinking. One side of the brain is creative and the other side is logical bunkum.

I am sure I will find plenty more along the way. There is neuro-bollocks everywhere these days and their dubious findings seem to have upgraded from trickling into agency life to pouring in.

Myth #1 – VAK learning styles.

I am going to start with Visual, Audio and Kinesthetic (VAK) learning styles.  This is the idea that people have learning and communication styles and they learn quicker or take in information if they are taught or talked to in they chosen communications style.

As you’d expect Visual style is learning by seeing information, Auditory is hearing information and Kinesthetic is feeling. This is often short-handed in sales training langauge to listening for the prospects language i.e. is it V, A or K, e.g do they say ‘I see what you mean’ or “I hear what you’re saying or “I have a feeling you may be right.’  Once you have established they leaning style, V, A or K you should stick with speaking in those metaphors for example or showing work if they are auditory. And more to the point one communication or learning style will not work for others. It’s as if they can’t hear you if you use the wrong style.

Anyway it’s a myth, its BS,  or at least there is no evidence that this is true yet an outstanding 82% of teachers in some studies believe it to be true.  Here is a serious paper on the subject by Paher, Mc Daniel, Rohrer and Bjork. And an easier one here  and for those of you that are visual learners here is a youtube clip of Dr Daniel Willingham, see what I did there?

So let’s stop with this nonsense – do you hear me ?

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