Friday, April 1, 2011

Future Babble.

There was a book review published in "The New York Times" last month on a book called "Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better" by a writer called Dan Gardner. You can read the review here, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/27/books/review/book-review-future-babble-by-dan-gardner.html?ref=review

But here, in a nutshell, is what I think has gone dramatically wrong with our world and our industry.

We are living through a period of massive change. Virtually all of the old verities have been smashed. Along with virtually all of the old authorities.

For most people a Church is something you can't park in front of. A teacher is someone to fire. A business leader is a thief. An athlete is a drug user. These people and institutions can no longer show us the way.

What we are left with now that these scions have diminished is "experts." Experts are whom we turn to to help us find underpinnings and foundation--to make sense of a confusing world.

Here's the thing--there are no "qualifications" for expert-hood. There's no "Six Sigma Course" of experthood. All you really need is a little pecker and a big ego.

With those requisites met, experts do what experts are expert at. They issue proclamations. Most often, these proclamations serve to underscore the expertness of the experts.

No one gives experts report cards.

So, the ad agency "Huge" still lauds the accomplishments of the Pepsi Refresh campaign which according to some estimates cost the soda maker hundreds of millions of dollars.

In fact, I think there's probably some inverse correlation between the amount of times an expert is wrong and how many people believe that expert.

One of my favorite writers, Mark Harris (whose baseball tetralogy remains some of the best fiction I have ever read) said this in one of his novels. "The only hero is the man without heroes."

I think the only expert is the man who doesn't trust experts.

I leave you with this, which I lifted from the "Times."

"Philip Tetlock,[is] a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Beginning in the 1980s, Tetlock examined 27,451 forecasts by 284 academics, pundits and other prognosticators. The study was complex, but the conclusion can be summarized simply: the experts bombed. Not only were they worse than statistical models, they could barely eke out a tie with the proverbial dart-throwing chimps."

4 comments:

Sean Peake said...

Not suprising. Starting in the '80s, a number of scientists became advocates, abandoning and corrupting the tenets of their profession to advance political beliefs or ideologies, especially when big bucks are involved. Now it's hard to tell the difference in almost every scientific field.

dave trott said...

A while back I was reading a top Hollywood producer's biography.
He said something like "I wondered what would have happened if I'd greenlighted all the scripts I passed on, and passed on all the scripts I greenlighted. So I ran the numbers. And if I'd done everything in my career exactly opposite, the results would have pretty much the same."

geo said...

Dave, the same might be true with ads?

dave trott said...

I bet it is true for 90% of advertising, it doesn't make a gnat's bollock of difference whether it appears or not.
But I bet it's not true of Mary Wells, Bill Bernbach, George Lois, or Ed McCabe.