Ideas can go down as well as up

‘Ideas are like jokes and gifts’, David Wethey explains.

Researching the world of ideas and creativity for my new book THE VERY IDEA! has been a fascinating experience. I think we’ve all worked out that only a small minority of people in business are what you would call natural and consistent idea generators. My goal in writing the book is to encourage far more executives and managers to liberate their inner creativity, rather than fall back on the brief / feedback / micro-manage / approve routine. I have really enjoyed interviewing the planners, creatives and inventors who come up with the great ideas that drive change and progress. There are some brilliant tips to pass on, and I have every confidence that many of my readers will rise to the challenge and become consistent and prolific ideas people.

There is a ‘but’ however. Not all ideas – even ideas that we think are big ideas – are good and valuable. The same mental process – making connections between what we know already and what we have recently learned from looking at a problem or brief – that triggers powerful, game-changing ideas, can also produce bad and dangerous ideas. That’s why we need the filters and litmus tests that colleagues provide to scotch potentially disastrous flights of fancy. It is no good my egging on everyone to dream up more and more ideas if we have no mechanism for spotting the dangers of a rogue when we still have time to abort and go back to the drawing board.

A popular myth is that there is safety in numbers, in terms of making sure that contentious ideas are exposed to a lot of people to make sure that they won’t lead to disaster.

How different the world would be if that were true!

How much less hazardous life would be if the democratic process (you know elections, referendums and so on) saved us from truly awe-inspiring mistakes like Brexit, Trump or a hung parliament with the balance held by the DUP. There are obviously a myriad examples of one-off bad ideas. But what intrigues me is the bad idea that just gets worse as it plays out and triggers ever worse consequences and side effects.

Take Brexit for instance. The Referendum simply asked voters to decide whether to leave the European Union or remain within it. “Brexit” had a ring to it (more than “Leave”) and the behaviouralists tell us that positive action is instinctively more motivating than just carrying on doing the same old thing. 51.9% voted for Brexit. It’s probably fair to say that the vast majority did not understand what the Brexit idea meant (other than a vague Rule Britannia feeling), or what the short and long term consequences were likely to be. Suffice it to say that no divorce in history was ever so protracted, complicated or expensive. And worse still, Britain doesn’t even have someone else to sleep with.

Ideas are like jokes and gifts. The joke teller and the present giver are the last people to decide whether the joke is funny or the gift hits the spot. Only the recipient can do that. We have all worked out that idea generators are full of ideas. The first one off the production line is pretty unlikely to be the best we can do. We need a reasonable level of choice, and the time to look at pros and cons. Assessing reward and risk are essential to good decision making. Nearly all the politicians campaigning before the Referendum wanted the good bits of Europe without the bits that hacked us all off. The Referendum campaigns on both sides were badly planned and run, with no indication that a vote for Leave would turn into a bungee jump without the bungee.

So why do we allow ourselves to fall for politicians with daft ideas? Is it ignorance, or apathy? Is it the feeling we can’t make a difference? Or as in the case of the EU referendum or the US Presidential Election, is it simply that a choice between just two unattractive options is not really a valid choice at all – unless at least one of the ideas is well articulated?

Both being directly critical and sitting on the fence have a bad name. We are always being urged to make a positive choice – this idea, this candidate. But the next time you are asked to vote for an idea or a person that smells wrong now and could smell a lot worse down the line, tell it as it is, and stay on the fence (eg vote Remain) till something better comes along!

Read more at https://www.marketingsociety.com/the-library/ideas-can-go-down-well#kvhjEkbJqFUAsL0B.99

Time to have a debate about debate

Debates are in the news. Trump and Clinton mark III takes place on Wed 19th October, and literally anything could happen after the appalling and unstatesmanlike name-calling of the first two encounters. We have just recovered from the tedium of several rounds of Jeremy Corbyn vs……what was the guy’s name now?

Momentum against what used to be called the Labour Party is the modern day version of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

It is hard to recall any political debate that was worse argued and more incompetently – and what is worse, more foolishly – conducted than Leave vs Remain. It is poetic justice (though tragic for the country) that the most inept and poorly argued case lost, from a virtually impregnable position. The fiasco robbed a pretty successful Prime Minister and half his Cabinet of their careers, just a year after a spectacular election victory. Debating debacles can be exceedingly costly.

I am sure there was some debating during the post-Farage farrago in UKIP’s lala land, but the eventual winner Diane James refused to participate, was elected anyway, and then resigned after 18 days.

PMQs have become a pointless exercise, as has so much of what passes as debate in the Commons. In fairness the superannuated politicians in the Lords perform with marginally more grace and style.

We’ve watched Kerry vs Lavrov snapping at each other in the UN while Aleppo burned. Question Time goes out every Thursday with a panel of five making predictable statements until Dimbleby major throws the subject open to the man in the red cardigan in the back row. Meanwhile brother Jonathan goes through a similar routine on Any Questions. Interviewers and presenters on Radio 4 and 5 Live practise bear-baiting on their prey, or conduct meaningless dialogues with contrapuntally opposed duos who will never agree about anything.

Unreasonableness has been institutionalised – even in company conference rooms. Bad manners, adversarial behaviour, interrupting, talking over and shouting down appear to have become the default setting. Courtesy, empathy, and civilised discussion are just so yesterday. And what is the point of it all? Is there any sense in which people argue and berate to convince each other? Or is it simply warfare with words – endless salvos of incoming rockets from both sides?

Have we simply to agree that it is a very disputatious age, and there’s nothing we can do about it? Are we permanently stuck with long faces and angry expressions? Should debate be all versus all? Or organised – officially or otherwise in parties, like a verbal equivalent of British Bulldog? Is collaborative and considerate behaviour an option any more? Is it even worth listening to what the other side is saying, if all you are going to do is adopt the even-handed approach of a Kim Jong-Un or the charming President Duterte in the hapless Philippines (how on earth did they come to elect him?).

At school, I loved the Debating Society. Once I’d worked out that international honours were unlikely to come my way at any known sport, I really got stuck into regular jousting with my most articulate rivals. And do you know how I learned to debate? It was from the rule that at every second meeting of the Society we had to either propose or second a motion that we didn’t personally agree with. That taught me, to do the research, to prepare, and to anticipate what the other side would say. It was like chess in words – wonderfully civilised, fun to do, and entertaining to listen to.

I think there’s a lesson here. Less passion leads to better argumentation.

The more keenly you listen, the better you can respond. Wit wins over sarcasm – brains over brawn. Objective analysis beats raw subjectivity. Civilised debate actually has the quiet power to convince and convert – in a way that hectoring and bullying tactics almost never will.
This is David’s Marketing Society blog for the month of October. Read more at https://www.marketingsociety.com/the-library/time-have-debate-about-debate#Fh1JPTd4vaudcJPa.99