Sunday, March 16, 2008

The glory of the irrational

It’s a bit of a contradiction that the things that I find most captivating in culture are the ones that should never have happened.

As someone who works in strategy it is quite often easy to see the insights and read the motives behind the things that you see around you from ad campaigns to party political manoeuvres to public art. Generally the logical path that strategic thinking guides you down will land you in a territory that you can read retrospectively and learn to expect the outcomes prospectively. Ironic then that the most interesting things, to me at least, are those where it appears like there was some kind of strategic malfunction or mutation so that what you are seeing logically should never have come about because it just shouldn’t work. It’s even better when the outcome clearly does work. Does this mean that a strategy free project has a better chance of producing something special? Maybe in the chaos there will be lots of costly misses but the hits will be more original and culture changing.

My view would be that this is not the case. Instead I would look at it the other way round and say that if something does work in its execution then there is always a reason. The people who created it may not have fully appreciated this for themselves, more likely they were just living it out. As an example an artist such as Picasso or more likely still a band such as the Beetles could probably not have explained at the time why their contribution was so important as we can now. But these reasons why, are real and can be decoded. This may be done very badly or the theory develop over time, but still there is somewhere a truth about why something had the effect that it did.

If this truth is out there when we look back in hindsight then it must also be possible to seek it out in advance and act according to what you think it must be. That’s what any strategy should be looking for. The fact that so often the strategy gets it wrong or worse still seems to net out in the same ‘seemingly’ logical place as every other attempt is not a problem with the ambition and is instead just human error. Being ridiculous for the sake of it, or different from anything else, or exactly the opposite of the likely strategic response, could all be good recommendations. If they could be justified against all the insight and information available they could justify a freakish offspring that confuses or amazes or stands out from the general order of life. In an environment where it is getting harder and harder to be heard and people more and more adept at demoting things of low importance from conscious view, its not a bad line to take. So here’s to the sublime in the ridiculous.

Above is my first example. In a world that acts upon the intellegence of the lowest common demoninator and that shys away from every possible issue or threat that someone raises in a meeting, the chance of getting a piece of public art signed off that is based on a chaotic confustion of traffic signals in the middle of a round-about should never have made it to fruition. But happily it did.

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