Dumb Ways to Decide: Ideas Decisions

 In Business decisions, Creative thinking, Decision-making, Insights, Realizer Blog

Have you ever thought about the way ideas live and die in creative industries like marketing? How do some toe-curlingly terrible ideas see the cold light of day? Who decides which ideas are good and bad anyway?

I’ve been asking myself these questions as I prepare my speech for the Mumbrella360 mUmBRELLA_360-2012_CMYKconference. My session is called Dumb Ways to Decide and I’m going to address 3 areas where marketers make big decisions: Ideas, People and Money

Tonight, I’m thinking about ideas.

I consider myself a rational person and yet – this is true – I often judge an idea according to whether it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I also pride myself on being honest when I’m wrong. Witness the winner of the 2008 Media Federation Grand Prix, a campaign called V-Raw.vraw I was first told about the idea when it was just hours old. I listened, frowned and reeled off six reasons why it wouldn’t work.

How do you decide whether ideas are good or bad?

Well, here’s what I’ve seen in my career. Marketers often react on gut feel. Usually they then post-rationalise their feelings according to the factors that seem relevant at that moment. I haven’t often seen marketers refer back to their brief, or the creative brief, or use objective criteria. And because there are often multiple people evaluating the ideas, there is a huge risk of Groupthink.

Occasionally, a Chief Marketing Officer who sits across multiple brands and controls millions of dollars of TV advertising notices this problem and plumps for the uber-rational approach…Link Testing. The scourge of creative everywhere. Show your creative to a focus group and see whether they like it. (i.e. outsource the gut feel).

And once in a blue moon someone goes a step too far and straps someone into an MRI machine and looks at how the brain lights up when watching their ad. Crazy huh?

So here’s the thing. There is a role for gut feel in decision making. But research shows gut feel is best used in combination with rigorous analysis and objective criteria. You should use your gut to check the analysis; and you should use analysis to check your gut.

What’s more, according to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, gut feel is best in situations where a) there is a bit of structure and predictability, and b) where the decision maker gets quick and reliable feedback about the quality of their decision. Now when it comes to creative ideas, hmm, we’re trying to be different to everything gone before, so there’s your predictable structure out the window. And what about feedback? Well, we never get to find out whether the idea in the too hard basket would have worked. But we should invest the time to see if the creative that we did approve worked. And why did it work?

Plus we should also record our decisions and review them later, so we don’t suffer from overconfidence or the hindsight bias, my favourite example of which is at the end of Susan Boyle’s audition (at 4m20s) when Simon Cowell says, “Susan, I knew the minute you walked on that stage that you were special.”

What do you think? Have you seen any good processes for evaluating ideas?

Posted by Rob Pyne