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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Kata No. 3

Kata No 3 How to Cock up Magnificently (every time)

Agencies aren’t good at fallibility.  Everything is a tremendous success.  Which is a crime considering mistakes are such a fertile source of real progress.  I once heard a brilliant paper on this by Jeremy Bullmore all about Archimedes and his bath.  I have a copy of the article stashed away somewhere and must get around to finding it and asking his permission to let me post it.  In the meantime you’ll have to put up with my guidelines for how to cock up successfully time after time after time.

1. Expect to get it wrong. Every decent SLR camera has a function that lets you bracket shots to get the light right.  Every artillery officer brackets the target or walks the shells up to it.  Only a complete incompetent or someone in advertising would expect to sit down and work it out and hit the bullseye first time every time. It can’t be done.  It’s dishonest to pretend otherwise.  So deal with it.

2. Push the idea to extremes – mediocrity is a copout. Make failure more probable we are generally so failure averse we will instinctively aim for something middling to reduce the risk of failure.  This is lethal.  Push the idea to the extreme.  Yes you are more likely to fail but mediocrity is going to fail anyway.  Plan to succeed magnificently or to go down trailling a plume of smoke that will be visible for miles.

3. Explain to someone else exactly how you expect it to work (you’’ll be wrong) In communications development we usually work in shorthand constantly borrowing against theories of how it is going to work without ever putting those theories to the test.  My first ever TV commercial was a moderate success but not in the way I had expected.  Prospects didn’t go out and buy.  Existing users met prospects in pubs and emboldened by the advertising recommended that prospects by the product. I would never have attempted a communications model as fallible and flaky as that but that is what happened. The more specific you are at articulating how something will work the more your presuppositions will come to light for someone to challenge or shoot down.  Painful but life affirming!

4. What will happen if you DON’T run the campaign? I’m indebted to Scott Sherard former chairman of CDP for this gem.  It might just be the case that things would have been fine even if you hadn’t run the campaign.  So why run it?  And how much of a difference will the campaign make?  Enough to justify the budget?  Was it going to get worse anyway?  Did the campaign make it that much better?  Advertising that only works while it is up on the hoardings and stops working as soon as it comes down probably doesn’t make enough of a difference to be worth the cost of the space/airtime.

5. Scenario 2 Give 3 reasons why your idea will fail (then fix them) A variant on Scenario 1 but worth considering.  This is all about implementation – a great idea that never had a chance because no one put enough through into how it was actually going to work on the ground.  If you are content to strategise and don’t take the trouble to be involved at the implementation stage then all the strategy is well nigh useless. I have been wondering whether it would be possible to plan only at the implementation level and to leave strategy alone.  Restaurants live on the reputation of their chefs.  But whether you have a good meal owes a lot more to the waiter – doesn’t it?

6. Ensure you have an early warning mechanism in place. (research is one of the best known) If you’ve managed to suspend credulity this far then you’ll be wondering why I am so set on making mistakes.  Well of course the thing is to flush mistakes out with time to recover.  You can’t route around them so route through them, trap them and then put it right.  Which is why the group discussion has become the quintessential method for spotting mistakes.  It isn’t the only method by a long chalk but in the planning fraternity we do lean on it heavily partly because it is a currency that creatives, suits and supremely clients defer to.  And it makes us powerful so that can’t be bad.

7. Don’t worry about how you’ll cope when you spot the problem – it’’ll be your best insight in months. Honestly, mistakes ARE the best source of breakthroughs.  The history of science is littered with this.  And it is marvellous how easily and quickly mistakes can be amended when they are found in time.




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