When my daughter was young, I asked her teacher why she was getting bad marks in maths.
He told me she wasn’t showing the working-out in the margin.
She just wrote the answer, so it could be a lucky guess.
He couldn’t tell if it was arrived at by the correct method.
He needed to see the working-out to check if the thinking was right.
That’s why schools gave half the marks for the working-out.
For me, this was an interesting insight into the western mind.
We always need to see the working out.
I’ve always been very interested in eastern philosophy.
Especially Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Zen.
What they were saying felt right to me.
But being right wasn’t enough, I needed to understand it.
It needed to make sense logically.
For instance, Buddha said, “All there is, is mind.”
I knew that was true, it felt right, but it was difficult to grasp.
Then I began to read western philosophy.
Descartes, Locke, Hume. Kant.
This branch of philosophy is called epistemology.
Thinking about thinking: how the mind knows what it knows.
And gradually, logically, they walk you through their arguments.
Oversimplifying massively, everything you experience has to come in via the senses.
The mind then interprets all this sensory information.
So the only knowledge you can ever have of the external world comes from your mind.
Which brings us to exactly the same place as Buddha, “All there is, is mind”.
Buddha provided the right answer, but I couldn’t get it until I saw the working-out in the margin.
The western philosophers provided the working-out in the margin.
That’s western thinking, that’s how our minds work.
And that’s served us pretty well.
The problem is, when we move outside the area of maths and logical thinking.
When we don’t use the working-out to understand the right answer.
When we use the working-out to justify whatever answer we get.
Like the schools we’re not really that interested in the answer.
We’re much more interested in how you got there.
If the thinking’s right, the answer must be right.
But that kind of thinking stops us going beyond logic.
It stops the creative leap.
It assumes logic is the be-all and end-all.
Isn’t that just what we’ve got at the moment?
Departments of logic that do all the working-out in the margin.
Then hand it over to the ‘creatives’ to merely stylise the answer.
I recently read Tim Lindsay’s advice to account men on briefing creatives.
“Process should liberate them, not constrain them. ‘Philosophies’ should guide rather than proscribe.
And briefs can always be retrospectively altered to suit a great idea.”
Hang on, surely that’s heresy.
A brief being altered to suit a great idea?
How can it possibly be a great idea if it’s not on brief?
Surely the brief is sacrosanct.
The brief is the working out in the margin.
How will we know if you’ve got the right answer if it doesn’t fit the working-out in the margin?
And what if you got the right answer by the wrong method?
Then it can’t be valid.
Better to have the wrong answer by the right method.
Maybe that’s why the numbers are as follows.
4% of advertising is remembered positively, 7% is remembered negatively, 89% isn’t noticed or remembered.
Probably because that 89% all looks the same.
As Bill Bernbach said, “The same statistics, the same facts and figures, are available to all of us. If we all use them in the same way, we’ll all end up doing the same thing.”
And that’s why 89% of advertising fails.
Because, in our business, the working-out in the margin makes a great servant, but a lousy master.
I think it’s worth remembering what Einstein said.
“First we make the intuitive leap. Then we use logic to build a bridge back to where we started.”