Friday, October 19, 2018


Magical thinking can be simply described as the assigning of patterns and causation to events where those patterns and causation don’t actually exist. 
One of the main reasons psychologists give for why people engage in magical thinking is that it can give a sense of security – a feeling that one possesses some special knowledge about how to influence outcomes that would normally be out of one’s control.

Sometimes it’s just a bit of fun, of course.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett has this anecdote about his friend the theologian Lee Siegel.
Siegel has published a number of papers and books on Indian religion and culture including this 1991 book on Indian street magic, Net of Magic: Wonders and Deceptions in India.

Siegel explains that when he told people he was writing a book on magic, he was often asked “Is it a  book about real magic?”

By 'real magic' of course, people mean ‘miracles’ and acts involving ‘supernatural powers’.

Seigel would answer, ‘No, the book is about conjuring tricks, rope tricks, snake charming, illusions etc. Not real magic.'

So when people say ‘Real magic’, that really refers to the kind of magic that is not real.

Magic that cannot be done.

Whilst the magic that is real - the kind of magic that CAN actually be done - is not ‘real magic’.

It’s a trick.

‘Real magic’ is miraculous, a violation of the laws of nature.

Yet many people still want to believe in real magic.

A strange compulsion to believe in ‘real magic’ affects many people when the topic is advertising and brands.

This magical thinking assigns patterns and causation to events where patterns and causation do not exist.

Arthur C Clarke famously observed that 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'.

But did he mean ‘real magic’? Or the kind of magic that can be done?

My good friend Mark Earls proposed, back in 2013, that we should try substituting the word 'Magic' for 'Big' in Big Data.

‘…if we only master Magic Data, it will make us all-powerful; the sword of Magic Data will banish all evils.’

Magic data is now inexorably linked to magic AI and magic machine learning.

Not to mention the enduring popularity of other ‘magical’ things like content marketing, influencers, the enduring cult of ‘Lovemarks’, and a multitude of other maladies.

(I've been a proponent of applied behavioural economics and suchlike in recent years, however even invoking cognitive biases has now taken on 'magical' properties. More on that in another post.)

Gossage's observations in 1960-odd seem prophetic, now.

‘Advertising…is constantly being lured into seemingly allied fields that have little to do with its unique talents and often interfere with them. … But there is one job it does well that no other communication form does at all: the controlled propagation of an idea with a defined objective though paid space.’

One reason that we can tend to engage in magical thinking is that it gives a small feeling of security in our professional lives. That we have special knowledge about how to influence outcomes. 

Magical thinking is really about anxiety reduction.

But there is, of course, a kind of magic that CAN be done - namely, make something creative and interesting and put it in places where people will see it - the controlled propagation of an idea with a defined objective.

Or if you prefer the 2018 version, it's what Binet and Field call the virtuous circle.

'... creating consistently great creative content over several years and promoting it heavily through massive exposure in paid advertising media... [the] paid media helps generate earned media, which then amplifies the effect of paid media, creating a virtuous circle of rising fame and increasing effectiveness.'

It might not be 'real magic' but, when it works, it’s magic nonetheless.

'Trust none of what you hear,
And less of what you see'

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

the destroyers of advertising

Brands are complex abstractions.

Advertising had made it possible for consumers to make some sense of these complex abstractions.

But because the concept of what-is-advertising has now been twisted out of recognition – principally by the emergence of highly targeted surveillance-fuelled direct response, content-factories, influencers [sic] etc etc - the NEW ‘advertising’ (ie the abandonment of any conventional ideas of originality, creativity in favour of pastiche and mediocrity - bearing a resemblance to advertising ) cannot fulfil this need.

And now, because people have started to ignore and block this kind of advertising, they don't remember, or credit, the role advertising performed in culture, when it used to BE advertising.

And more worrying is this.

As it becomes more and more accepted that this new definition of advertising IS the advertising, we are failing to distinguish between what is real advertising and what are, in fact, the products of the destroyers of advertising.

a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown

'A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation -- or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind's wings should have grown.'

Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It? 1984

Friday, July 06, 2018

death by 6,000 nibbles

The Yellow Tang is a brightly colored fish that swims in the tropical reefs of the Indian Ocean.

When it needs cleaned, the tang looks for its pal, the Cleaner Wrasse who can be recognised by its bright electric blue colour and black stripe that runs down the length of its body.

Cleaner Wrasses hang around in 'cleaning stations'. Agencies in the reef.

The Wrasse is given access to the Tang’s gills and mouth, and then it eats any parasites and dead tissue off larger fishes' skin in a mutualistic relationship that provides food and protection for the wrasse, and considerable health benefits for the Tang. A reciprocal situation.

And so in order to gain access, the Cleaner Wrasse must first perform a secret dance – a special ‘code’ - in order to win the Tang’s trust.

This system normally works out fine, the symbiosis between two species, both partners are indispensable and the mutual advantage is obvious.

But there’s some other fish that mimic Cleaner Wrasses. For example, a species of Blenny called Aspidontus Taeniatus has evolved the same behavior.

It is almost identical in size and appearance to the Cleaner Wrasse. It even sports the same shiny stripe down its back and lurks around near the same reefs watching.

If approached by a Yellow Tang, the deceptive Blenny also knows the code.

The secret dance.

But once allowed in, instead of providing a cleaning service, the rogue Blenny uses its super sharp teeth to rip chunks of flesh from the hapless client.

Rather than ridding his client of parasites, Blenny IS the parasite. But in disguise.

The murky world of advertising technology [sic] contains many similar parasites, well adept at making themselves appear to be useful.

They look a bit like something to do with advertising, they can talk a language that’s a bit like the language of advertising. They know the code, which kinds of secret dances will get them access to the big fish.

And there’s lots of them.

This year’s adtech ‘lumascape’ graphic actually charts 6,829 marketing technology solutions from 6,242 unique marketing technology vendors.

While that represents ‘just’ 27% growth from 2017’s total (5,381) solutions, the percentage of growth the scale and velocity of this space is staggering.

In fact, the size of the 2018 landscape is equivalent to all of the marketing tech landscapes from 2011 through 2016 added together. Indeed, in 2011 they numbered just 150.

All of them having a nibble. All of them getting a chunk.

Where does all the money go?

Some of these companies are legit.

Some of the money may even find its way back into the industry, somehow.

But once you let them in, they keep biting.
And there are so many it’s hard to see how they can be kept out.
Then it's death by 6,000 nibbles.

Friday, June 29, 2018


'All over the country, we want a new direction,
I said all over this land, we need a reaction,
Well there should be a youth explosion,
Inflate creation,
But something we can command,

What's the point in saying destroy?
I want a new life for everywhere,
We want a direction, all over the country,
I said I want a reaction, all over this land,
You g-got to get up and move it, a youth explosion,
Because this is your last chance,

Can't dismiss what is gone before,
But there's foundations for us to explore,

All around the world I've been looking for a new'

The 19 year old Paul Weller intuitively knew something of adaptive leadership.

Adaptive leadership is about change that enables the capacity to thrive.

Adaptive change interventions build on the past rather than jettison it.

Organizational change happens through ex-peri-ment-ation.

Adaptive leadership values diversity of views.

New adaptations have the potential of significantly displacing, re-regulating, and rearranging old structures.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

successful adaptations are both conservative and progressive

'Successful adaptive changes build on the past rather than jettison it.

In biological adaptations, though DNA changes may radically expand the species’ capacity to thrive, the actual amount of DNA that changes is minuscule.

More than 98 percent of our current DNA is the same as that of a chimpanzee: it took less than a 2 percent change of our evolutionary predecessors’ genetic blueprint to give humans extraordinary range and ability.

A challenge for adaptive leadership, then, is to engage people in distinguishing what is essential to preserve from their organization’s heritage from what is expendable.

Successful adaptations are thus both conservative and progressive.

They make the best possible use of previous wisdom and know-how.

The most effective leadership anchors change in the values, competencies, and strategic orientations that should endure in the organization.'

Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky | The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World | 2009 Harvard Business School Publishing

nothing cooks without some heat

In his autobiography Miles Davis tells a story about the 1970 line-up of his touring band - this was the band that featured on the live half of the Live-Evil album - the one that featured the legendary Keith Jarrett on keys and briefly included the equally legendary Gary Bartz on sax.

Bartz had been grumbling a bit in private about Jarrett over-playing 'busy shit' behind his sax solos. Eventually he approached Miles and asked him to have a word with Kieth.

Miles agreed.

Later Keith Jarrett was talking with Miles about some other bits and pieces and as he was leaving Miles calls Keith back to tell him how much Gary Bartz was loving what he was doing behind his sax solos and could he please do even more of that kind of of thing.

Cookin' with Miles.
Nothing cooks without some heat.

Monday, June 04, 2018

prestige intelligence and the transcendent self

The philosopher Daniel Dennett recalls the time computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum – a good friend of Dennett’s – harboured his own ideas and ambition about becoming a philosopher.

Weizenbaum had recounted how one evening, after ‘holding forth with high purpose and furrowed brow at the dinner table’, his young daughter had exclaimed, ‘Wow! Dad just said a ‘deepity!’

Dennett was suitably impressed – with the coinage, not necessarily his friend’s ambitions in the philosophy department – and subsequently adopted ‘deepity’ as categorising device and explains correct usage like this.

‘A deepity is a proposition that seems both important and true— and profound— but that achieves this effect by being ambiguous.’

Pictured below is some expensively produced promotional collateral given to attendees of an ‘upfronts’ type showcase from an Australian media organization that we attended recently.

Deepity indeed. ‘Disruptive collaboration' is a favourite but all seem to fit Dennett’s description perfectly.

Strangely out-of-place is the final card promising ‘commercial solutions’. How dull in it’s pragmatism and downright usefullness.

Monday, May 14, 2018

how do you mend a broken heart?

As they went into their final match of the 1985/86 Scottish football season, away to 6th placed Dundee on May 3, league leaders Hearts had gone a full 27 league games without defeat and needed only to avoid losing to ensure they would be Scottish champions for the first time since 1960.

Two Albert Kidd goals for Dundee in the final 10 minutes shattered Hearts dreams, as Celtic were stuffing St Mirren 5-0 in Paisley and so nicked the title on the last day.

But Hearts still had the Cup to play for.

The final at Hampden against Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen was just a week away.

To try and lift the dejected players for the Cup final the following week, the Hearts management had brought in a top sports psychologist who coached the squad in the week leading up to the final.

Various techniques were employed to attempt to 'erase' the disappointment of blowing the championship and prepare the team to at least lift the cup.

Fergie got wind of the activities at the Hearts training camp.

According to former Aberdeen assistant boss, Willie Garner, as Fergie prepared the Aberdeen players together in the dressing room before the teams walked out at the final, his final instructions were that each Aberdeen player should find an individual Hearts player in the tunnel, shake their hand and offer 'bad luck last week' condolences.

Thus negating any work the psychs might have done to put the bitter disappointment of losing the big prize in the final minutes of the last league game.

Aberdeen went 1-0 up in the first two minutes and added two further goals later on, destroying Hearts 3-0.


Identifying the critical factors in a situation, and designing the means to overcome them.

Or Predatory Thinking - as Dave Trott would say.

Getting upstream of the problem.