Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stop what you are doing...

The great man himself. Antonio Damasio. Hero.

Those of you who read my twitter or blip stream (thanks to Iain for pointing the latter out, it's great) will know I've been on my hollybobs for a little while.

But, in addition to brushing up on my Hemingway (Moveable Feast is a great read - should really have a butchers at some more of his work; not quite sure why I haven't yet), I've done a classic plannerly thing.

Yes, that's right, not being content with the typical holiday reading, I thought I might try my hand at some of the more planner-centric texts which are doing the rounds at the moment. The first was me finally reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'Black Swan'. I can understand why so many planners and people within comms are so fascinated by it; for someone (who was a former head of deratives/a very talented mathematician/philosopher - a polymath in the true sense of the word) to come out and criticise how much we think we know, and how, in his terms, 'Platonicity', is a mistake.

Essentially, through a series of case studies, Taleb dismisses the idea that the world is so straightforward, so easily quantifiable as we'd like it to be, and this blinds us from ever considering extreme random acts (the Popper inspired 'Black Swans'). It's very interesting, and I liked the bits about fractals (images which appear solid, but when looked at closely, are actually entirely different) and his belief in Benoit Mandelbrot to show the way - have a look at this:



Pretty amazing, eh? Makes you more aware of what you do, and how post-rationalisation seems to be just as bunk as, privately, people believed it is.

Anyway, I digress. On with the subject of the nice chap in the first photo. Mr Damasio, to be precise. I was alerted to him after reading Paul Feldwick's piece on 'Fifty Years Using The Wrong Model of Advertising', as he had some interesting things to say about Damasio there.

Namely, that he doesn't separate rational thought from emotional responses. The title of his book (Descartes' Error) was a bit of a giveaway, but yes, given his background in neurology, he uses a lot of examples to explain it to the average layman. It's not quite so user friendly as Taleb's book, but when he chooses to focus on some of the case studies (Phineas Gage is particularly fascinating), the book gets really interesting.

It helps to make sense of why certain patients with certain types of brain damage can seem to be just fine mentally, but in fact have their personalities change as they get older and develop. Interestingly, he raises the notion that parts of the brain work in conjunction with each other, so this can happen.

A good summary is below (it's not Damasio speaking - not sure who, but it's interesting):




And as to how this relates to the planning day job (or indeed, how both of them do). Well, bluntly, both argue for more emotional appeals to people, as their emotions (and subsequent randomness) are commonplace. Far more than all the people in all the groups in all the brands you'll ever work on. We should be producing work that stirs people into thinking with their heads and their hearts at the same time (because it's what they do).

So yes, bloody useful (if complicated) fodder for the day job. If you're in the least bit interested in what makes people tick (and can stand the self-righteousness of Taleb), read 'em both. Now...

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