Getting ahead in the age of distraction
Just catching up on a great post by Jason Cohen on Building 43 a few weeks back. You can read “Ignoring the wisdom of crowds” in its entirety for yourself; what struck me is how instructive Cohen’s post is not just for making great products, but for making great public relations campaigns, too.
In summary, Jason writes about how harnessing the wisdom of crowds is compelling in certain instances–as in “when errors cancel out, like when estimating jelly beans or answering pop culture questions” (or, when guessing the true butchered weight of a live ox, as Francis Galton discovered.) But “in creative work,” notes Cohen, “votes eliminate the interesting edges, leaving only the boring residue that no one hated enough to vote off the island.”
Creative work–like, say, drafting product or company messaging (which Cohen himself notes), writing a press release that actually gets noticed, designing and executing a campaign that breaks through the mass of committee-created P.R. Stuff like that.
I love Cohen’s metaphor for mis-using the wisdom of crowds: it’s like someone creating a holiday meal, with the overriding philosophy of eliminating all of the things that various individuals might not like. Eventually you realize the only way you can please everyone is to “cook something bland, mild, and safe, like chicken and rice. But does chicken and rice actually please anyone?”
Perhaps we should ask, does the majority of bland, mild and safe public relations actually please anyone, either? In fact, often clients are pleased: they got through the assignment with job still intact, no one offended, and (hopefully) the usual assortment of straight news articles placed. But did it make a difference?
Some of the most important stuff great PR pros do begins edgy and daring. It holds all of the potential to light up the media and the marketplace. But then it goes through the committees and the reviews and the endless pontificating until the so-called wise crowd eliminates all of the ingredients that made it interesting to begin with. We get left with chicken-and-rice P.R.
We need to fight harder to keep the spice in the dish. Brandish our kitchen knives a little more when the crowd tries to turn our piquant campaign bland and boring. (My colleague Erin Humphrey wrote recently about the Guy Catches Laptop with his Butt viral video from MSI. Lemme tell ya, that puppy couldn’t possibly have gone through any committee!) The crowd might help you accurately guess the total number of clips in that coverage report–but it’s not very likely to make the coverage great.