Camp | ...Gasp!


Are you in one, or on the outside looking in?

The Blogfather’s had enough of too much linear thinking and hyperbole about ‘change’ in the time of COVID-19, so he’s got a learned rabble together, dusted down the sawn off and gone after it.

A casual glance through a marketing-skewed social media feed right now is akin to reading the opening paragraph of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. Some are spouting it is a time of great change and great opportunity, while others are saying nothing much will change and the next few years will be exceptionally tough.

It’s hard to know what to think.

At times like these, it pays to seek out those rare people armed with a scythe to swathe through the hyperbole-locks.

One such man is Tom Goodwin. And with a job title of ‘Head of Futures and Insight,’ he should know his future change onions. But we should not put too much pressure on Tom. As talented as he is, he has no clairvoyant capabilities, but he does talk a lot of reasoned sense. Like this:

“Now more than ever, is the time to stop saying “now, more than ever, we’re here, for you” in ads.”

And this:

“I’m very confused as to why everyone thinks everything will be so different to the past in a few months time…99% of life isn’t vaguely similar to the world we surround ourselves in. We are the odd ones and we seem naive right now in our assumptions that life will be different. Please don’t change businesses for an interim.”

And stick this in someone’s hyperbolic pipe and ask them to take a drag:

“Nowhere is more lonely and hard to be than the middle ground. To try to understand both sides seems almost impossible in the modern media landscape, empathy has never been harder but more necessary.”

Tom’s last point about empathy brings to mind this great talk by Andrew Tenzer and Ian Murray, entitled: ‘Everything Different, Everything the Same, and Nothing in Between’ kindly donated by them for ISOLATED Talks.

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People are looking for a very direct answer, in a very linear way, and are not comfortable with uncertainty, so feel they have to go into a camp on it.

They co-authored a study that went big last year, called ‘The Empathy Delusion’; a programme of research that looked at the difference between those who work in marketing, and mainstream audiences.

People in marketing interpret the world differently from most other people, a conclusion they based on psychological research and study.

Ian and Andrew still conclude, three months into the COVID-19 period, that an empathy gap still exists. We need to work hard to close it, and it transcends marketing, being a cultural problem.

Furthermore, they see the industry polarising into two distinct camps; Nothing will change Vs Everything will change, with very little room for nuance and anything in between.

People are looking for a very direct answer, in a very linear way, and are not comfortable with uncertainty, so feel they have to go into a camp on it.

A more holistic and oblique way of thinking is needed. They reference the work of the economist John Kay in their talk, a chap Gasp have had the pleasure of seeing talk at Nudgestock 2018. Why does John Kay think we need obliquity?

“Obliquity is necessary as we live in a world of uncertainty and complexity; the problems we encounter aren’t always clear – and we are often not sure what our goals are anyway. Circumstances change; people change – and are infuriatingly hard to predict; and direct approaches are often arrogant and unimaginative.”

Also, anchoring research on a COVID-19 context, rather than asking the questions you would normally ask, is potentially asking for trouble. As Ian says;

“We are being almost too human in our work, tending to project our perceptions onto it, which provides only one answer; change. We are comfortable with change, and we then prime everyone we talk to, to think about change.”

We need to be wary of the type of research that is getting produced at this time.

One area that has already changed and will stay so for at least a year, is education. Students are facing a full year of university with no campus, no union bar, no friends, and full remote learning. In terms of life experience, this is a huge loss, never mind the educational element suffering. It is almost inconceivable to think of the university experience without the people and friends for life you make.

But there is reason to be positive and good advice around for anyone faced with tough choices. Another excellent donation to ISOLATED Talks is from Marc Lewis of the School of Communication Arts.

He has five top tips for anyone thinking of going to Uni in these uncertain times and makes the point that learning is changing, transcending borders and it is now possible to learn almost anything, anywhere, online.

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What camp should you be in? Probably neither. Sit outside both, with an ear cocked both ways.

This week saw some children return to school, but it has all fallen rather flat, despite the government’s best intentions, with up to 90% of schools in some areas remaining closed. It’s understandable. With social distancing requirements, schools and parents are faced with a whole myriad of issues and worries.

It is not just an issue for parents to get their children back into their current school, the procedure for choosing a child’s next or first school must now be fraught with complexity. Clearly, open days will not be happening anytime soon, which are key for a parent to get a feel for the school and seek out the thoughts and philosophy of that lynchpin of any school, the headteacher.

Prior to the Coronavirus crisis, Gasp came up with what was already a cracking idea (if we may say) for a podcast that has only become even more potentially useful as the changes brought about for the education system kick in.

The podcast is called Talking 2 Heads and is a great way for a school’s headteacher to convey their thoughts and philosophy for the school’s direction to current and prospective pupils’ parents. There’s no doubt that updating and communicating with parents digitally, in an en masse yet personal way, will be of greater need as we go forward, and a podcast is just that; it’s like having the head pop round for a cuppa and a chinwag.

But back to the question of what camp should you be in? Probably neither. Sit outside both, with an ear cocked both ways, but probably sit a bit nearer to the fire burning in the ‘no change’ camp and listen to Bernbach talk of “unchanging man” as he roasts marshmallows. Mark Ritson, who referenced Andrew and Ian’s evidence, has made the point that people’s values have not changed at all; people still want, need, and value the same things.

The nuanced, thoughtful middle ground may be a bit lonely, but if enough of us gather there, others will start to notice and come over to see what all the fuss is about.

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