Restless Pursuit of the Credulous Mind in a World of Grey

April 19, 2015

A Brand Knowledge Pill a day, keeps the unhealthy symptoms away.  The following are brand tips specifically designed keeping in mind Bangladeshi brands and businesses.

Day 12 Pill 1 (Morning)
What our TV Viewing says about us
The idiot box has always been a source of intense debate. One school of thought says the excessive violence, sex, drugs and obsession with celebrity culture that is shown in TV is a main cause behind the moral decline of the society. The other group says, as a sign post of our collective thoughts, the job of TV entertainment is not to shape our behavior but to reflect it appropriately. Therefore if the society in general is embracing and cheering all things violent and crazy, the TV shows should naturally focus on that.
If we consider TV as a mirror that reflect us rather than a compass that guides us, what does this mirror say about us?
It says that the world since 9/11/2001 is not the same as we know. That’s why our TV is full of shows that focus on apocalypse or a dystopian world where humanity is destroyed by nuclear warfare or spread of a biological agent and then appears a messiah or super hero as an unlikely savior of the day from the zombies or vampires. It says that we are pretty distressed with our life in general and only way we feel superior to other people is by judging them constantly and pulling them down below us; a trend which has given rise to Reality TV shows like American Idol or shows that reflect the vanity of celebrity lifestyle like Keeping up with Kardashians. It says that in a world of temptations and complexity, the line between good and evil are getting blurred and not everything can be categorized as black or white. That’s why our traditional heroes and leading men are all becoming Anti-Heroes: flawed, dark, brooding, intense, and occasionally bad like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Masters of Sex, The Arrow, The Newsroom, House of Cards, House of Lies, Boardwalk Empire and many many more. It says that we have a yearning to seek for authenticity and simplicity as we are growing tired of all the repercussions of excessive materialism. That’s why Travel and Cooking related shows presenting both fantasy and escapism are growing faster now than at any time in history. TV says that our trust in authority is at all time low. That’s why we have obsession towards fixers or strong men who can twist an arm and leg to get their way like the characters to in Homeland, House of Cards, Scandal, Ray Donovan etc.
Not all things in TV tells a dark story. Take the case of TV comedies. The famous TV comedies of current days tell us about the apathy that we feel towards workplace. That’s why a lot of comedies these days like The Office, Parks & Recreations, and Brooklyn 99 etc take the absurdities of workplace behavior as a source of biting comedy. Lets dig one step deeper and look at the characters and how these characters are fleshed out to relate to us. In most cases, the leading men in these comedy shows are a “Cool guy who refuses to grow out of his man child antics or frat boy days” (Ref: Brooklyn 99, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs etc.). It shows a collective yearning among today’s youth to not take responsibilities of life and consider entering adulthood as the end of all things good. In these shows the young characters almost always hang out together in a bar or café with their friends (i.e. Friends, Sex &The City, New Girl, Happy Ending) showing our intense desire for the bygone days with a strong nostalgic tinge, where friends where always there, life was simple and there was no fear of missing out.
In an interesting study, Lauren Zalaznick collected the top 10 shows as per Nielsen Ratings since 1960 till now and measured it against three key viewing parameters – comfort (Watching the TV show to feel good or entertained), Social commentary (Watching the shows to know about the social issues that affect my world) and irreverence (Watching the shows to challenge the existing norms). When we start plotting the points in the charts, we see that in the 60s and 70s we saw TV mainly to comfort us. But as the world grew more restless, our tendency to look at the idiot box to give us discussion fuels than basic comforts and entertainment increased. Our collective conscience is getting crowded with dark thoughts. SO are our TV Shows.

Day 12 Pill 2 (Noon)
Our love affair with “Brain-storming”
In a famous book published in 1948 called “Your Creative Power”, Alex Osborn, a partner in the legendary advertising agency B.B.D.O. talked about a mysterious, never heard before process regarding “How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas”. He mentioned that when a group tackles a creative problem, all the members should engage in this process called “brainstorm”, which as per his definition means “using the brain to storm a creative problem – and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormier attacking the same objective.”
The first empirical test of brainstorming technique was performed in Yale University in 1958. Forty-eight male undergraduate students were divided into twelve groups and given a series of creative puzzles and asked to follow the brainstorming technique identified by Osborn. The results told them what all of us who ever participated in brainstorming meetings (Which is everyone who ever worked in any sort of organization) already knew for some time now: students individually on their own came up with roughly twice as many solutions compared to the groups who participated in the brainstorming, and on top of that an independent panel of judges deemed the individual member’s solutions more “feasible” and “effective.” In fact, generations of research performed in research lab all over the world in the last 50 years consistently proved that brainstorming doesn’t unleash the creative beast, they just collectively make us a lot less creative than we actually are as individuals.
Brainstorming has a lot of built in issues which deters it from reaching its original goal
1.    “As sexy as brainstorming is, with people popping like champagne with ideas, what actually happens is when one person is talking you’re not thinking of your own ideas,” said Leigh Thompson, a management professor at the Kellogg School in an interview with Fast Company magazine. Instead sub-consciously you’re already assimilating to other people’s ideas. This process is called “anchoring,” and it crushes originality.
2.    As per Loran Nordgren, another professor in Kellogg, in brainstorming early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation”. Since brainstorming favors the first ideas, it also breeds the least creative ideas, a phenomenon called “Conformity pressure”. Participants in desperate need to look intelligent and working against a ticking clock with the moderator shouting out how only 15 minutes are left to come to a consensus, often put the most obvious ideas first and then everyone else rally around that idea to get it done in time.
3.    Research shows that in traditional brainstorming, one or two loud mouths usually do 65-70% of the talking. Therefore, the supposed team work is often the output of a few of the more extroverted, dominant personality in the group
4.    Brainstorming is most often used to answer “Poorly structured questions” (Questions that doesn’t have an obvious answer, needs more creativity to come up with one and doesn’t have a well-defined step by step process to follow to come up with that illusive answer). But actually research shows that Brainstorming is better to find answers to “Well-structured questions” rather than “Poorly structured questions” (i.e. finding name of a new product), as the later requires more creativity and hence better to be tackled alone.

As per Paul B. Paulus, psychologist at the University of Texas at Arlington, “There’s plenty of rain in the storm. That is, plenty of ideas falling from the sky. But there’s not much lightning — the exceptional ideas that have the potential to set things on fire.”
If Brainstorming is indeed not as effective as everyone thinks, why this universal love affair with it?
Because Brainstorming is status quo. It’s sexy and fun. It goes in tune with the whole organizational trend of doing everything in teams and collaboration. In short, it’s another organizational bullshit that is passed on unchallenged. Somehow, human creativity has become a group process. There has been much debate in recent times about the role of individual genius vs a team in creativity & innovation. One school of thought is the lone researcher burning midnight oil to find out a Eureka moment is overstated and practically a myth. Creativity works well when a group is tackling the process together, bouncing ideas of each other in a sort of free-wheeling exercise.  The other school of thought preaches “Solitude as the catalyst for innovation”, citing examples of hundred years of creativity generated by individuals working on their own, undisturbed by e-mails, team building, meetings and other pressing group dynamics.
The researchers from Kellogg and Arlington mentioned earlier in this write up came up with a technique called “Brain writing” as an improvement over Brainstorming.  In the newly designed “Brain writing” process, people first think on their own and write down their ideas. Then everyone comes together to share those ideas, either verbally sharing them or write them in a wall without attaching their names to it. Then everyone votes on the idea, without getting influenced by who came up with it or how much each idea dominates the discussion; but purely based on the merit of the idea itself in solving the issue in hand.  In the subsequent studies, it was found out that this “Brain writing” process generates much more original ideas than the typical “Brainstorming”.
This doesn’t mean that the world is ready to move on from Brainstorming. Unfortunately, until we come to that day when we realize and question the times and resources wasted in such useless “Brainstorming” exercises, thousands of bored, zombie-like brain will continue to storm.

Shahriar Amin

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