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Homepage / Paying Attention to Detail

Paying Attention to Detail



After reading and trying to put into practice ideas from the book Black Box Thinking by Mathew Syed, my colleagues and I have been working our way through a book referenced by Syed – namely Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This is not a pop-management book for holiday reading – it’s a serious piece of work of over 500 pages on the role psychology plays in economics.

Our whole team is experiencing so many “ah-ha” moments as we are able to see why people react in certain ways when we are trying to get ideas across. This is particularly true when some of our ideas are quite radical and seriously challenge the status quo.

One of the critical ideas he introduces is WYSIATI – What You See Is All There Is. One of my colleagues has re-expressed this differently – “Simplicity on the Near-side of Complexity”. There are many points wrapped up in this little phrase, but one key message is that people are generally lazy, and don’t want to understand our rather complex world that we live in preferring the “just give me the headline, don’t bother me with the detail” approach. Two quick examples from politics and then a quiz.

Trump: Most of us were surprised that Donald Trump made it to President Elect of the US. I’ll not go into the oft-repeated disenfranchised post-rationalisation we have heard since, but there was one powerful message he had that Hilary Clinton failed miserably to match “Make America Great Again”. This was simple (simplistic), and easy to rattle off the tongue. But exactly how he’s actually going to do this – no detail at all.

BREXIT: Boris Johnson and his chums went around the UK before the referendum encouraging everyone to vote for exiting the EU. Again, I’ll not touch on the disenfranchised story, but go to their slogan which resonated powerfully with those who voted out; “Take Back Control”. David Cameron et al didn’t have anything like such a simple and powerful message. But behind this simplistic message, there was nothing but hot air – you may have seen Boris’ performance on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday…. There are no details about exactly how they’re going to take back control.

QUIZ (with a bit of a pander towards social media): It’s “Independence Day” with the world under threat from a superior Alien race: We need to elect a world leader, NOW and your vote counts. There is no time for campaigns, manifestos or TV broadcasts. Twitter is going to do the Ballot by posting three tweets and the candidate with the most number of likes for their tweet within the next two minutes will lead Earth in the battle against the Aliens.

Here are the three candidate Tweets:

Candidate A: Associated with crooked politicians. Consults with astrologers. He’s had two mistresses. He also chain-smokes. Drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B: He was kicked out of office twice. Sleeps until noon. Used drugs in school. Drinks a litre of whiskey every evening.

Candidate C: He is a decorated war hero. He’s a vegetarian. Doesn’t smoke. Drinks an occasional beer. Has never cheated on his wife.

Who would you choose? We’ll re-visit this in our next blog…


David Anker

Written By: Cranfield University

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  1. cranfieldcbp 07/12/2016 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    In today’s world with so much data, one can understand why people simply want the headline. If you take the headline you need to trust the people writing the headline to have done the due diligence on the detail. In business we do this all the time because we have to, but for the general public, it is different.

    The question or the general public is does “making America great again” or “taking back control” trump (sorry for the pun) all other considerations?

    In the Brexit debate there was a real lack of information from both sides. The BBC did a gallant job on Radio 4 trying to answer questions, but this was for a Radio 4 audience and so quite limited in its reach. Further, most of the answers did have a “we don’t really know” or “it depends on the post referendum negotiations” which is uncertainty and plays straight into the hands of those with good slogans.

    I remember a book from 40 years ago called “the hidden persuaders” that really focused on how you craft a message that sells. People should reread it, either Boris and Trump did, or the just knew intuitively what would work.


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