A stupid argument
You know those phone competitions they have on ITV ?
Where you can win a brand new car and a home cinema system if you happen to know which city is the capital of France ?
They hit a new low last week. I was watching Loose Women in my local gym (that’s why I joined it, actually) when a break-bumper quiz asked me “what is another name for a set of twelve – a. Pair b. Trio c. Dozen ?”
Then one of the presenters sincerely wished me good luck in finding the answer.
Now with questions like that, it’s debatable whether the people taking part would know, if they did win the prize, the address it should be sent to.
But the thing about contemplating others’ stupidity is that it’s not long before you realise that you can be a bit of a knuckle-grazing bottom-feeding mouth-breather yourself.
I got this feeling when reading a book which showed me a new side to something I’d struggled with before.
Conservative, risk-averse thinking.
Jonathan Haidt’s book, called “The Righteous Mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion”, is about the difference between right-wing and left-wing thinkers.
And at one point he defines them specfifically by their attitude to risk.
He shows that some people’s brains are less alert to threats and they take particular pleasure in novelty and diversity. They become liberals.
People who are wired to be more cautious are more likely to become conservatives.
But if you think that’s unfair on conservatives, you can relax because the most interesting thrust of his argument is on the limited vision of liberals.
Haidt argues that liberals have an incomplete understanding of the world they’re trying to help - it’s as if they have the equivalent of only 2 out of the 5 possible taste receptors on their tongue.
So liberals’ main concerns could be summed up as being about protecting the vulnerable in society and preventing suffering.
Haidt believes that conservatives have these concerns (debatable, but let it go for now) and also an understanding of things like the need for authority, group loyalty, religion and a society which rewards hard graft.
Now I hate most of those things – as a creative person, I’m stuck in an almost permanent adolescence – but, more seriously, they look to me like they’re over-complicating the picture.
And whether you agree with those specific themes or not, I think it’s right to say that liberals have a “simpler” attitude to life and conservatives a more complex one.
Why is this relevant to advertising ?
Because the battle to get great creative work out is often a battle between risk-takers and risk-haters.
And that can feel very frustrating.
The risk-hater will feel like they’re seeing a fuller picture than the risk-taker.
They feel that they see the problem in 3-D – while the other is only seeing it in 2-D
From the other perspective, it looks to the risk-taker that the risk-hater has paid a lot of money for a pair of glasses which aren’t much use in real life.
Both look stupid or unhelpful to the other.
This isn’t a simple agency/client split or a creative/suit split – it can fall anywhere.
But if we could understand that dynamic more, maybe we could deal with it better.
And get better work out as a result.
Haidt is making his arguments not because he is anti-liberal but because he’s desperately trying to bridge the chasm between the 2 world views.
As he says, neither side has a monopoly on solutions – they both have useful stuff to bring to the party.
And it’s the same with risk and creativity. Finding a way for risk-takers and risk-haters to work together more efficiently would be wonderful.
But who knows ?
Maybe the whole idea is just stupid.