Whoops! - Why reason isn't King.

Written by David Pullan

Whoops! - Why reason isn't King.

I am reading John Lanchester’s wonderful book ‘Whoops’ at the moment. In it he gives a very simple yet profound explanation of the financial crisis of 2008.


As I sat in my garden this morning thinking that my cat has no concept of the events that have taken place over the last few days I was struck by this sentence.


‘The most common mistake of very smart people [is] that people’s minds work in the same way that theirs do.’


Boy oh boy! Has that ever been proved to be the case in Britain this week.


Smart smart people: every past Prime Minister, every leading economic think tank, every other leader in the European Union had been saying, ‘You see that cliff marked Brexit that you’re about to walk off? How about you don’t do that?’


And guess what? We ran off it, giggling and waving our arms above our heads like a giddy granny plunging into the briny on a day out at Margate.


And why?


Because the Remain argument relied on logic and didn’t resonate with 52% of the electorate. It didn’t create a story that moved the masses and stuck in their heads. 


Sure it had all of the numbers and models you could wish for. It had experts queueing up to speak. It had heavy weight leader writers laying out reasoned arguments for a united approach to global problems.


And yet it didn’t work. Because Leave had a 'stronger' story.


Now in my opinion it was a story that relied a little too heavily on bluebirds flying over the White Cliffs of Dover, everyone dashing home for lashings of ginger beer, and fathers pressing gob stoppers into their children’s hands after a long yet satisfying week in a well paid manufacturing job for life…but hey, that’s my opinion.


My point is it was a story. It was a story that didn’t assume people had a knowledge of economics, politics and sociology. It was a story that understood the audience it was appealing to, the emotions they wanted to feel and the future they wanted to experience. And it stuck and it worked.


So how can you apply this?


Well for a start you can stop thinking that everyone thinks like you. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What do they want? What is their level of knowledge? What language do they need to hear? What images do they need to be storing in their hippocampus as they head towards their decision?


Think about this and you might just guide people away from a cliff.


P.S. I have no idea what the photo is about. I just like it. Let me know if you think of a connection.




photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/49462908@N00/26447013423">Hands up, whatever creature you are!</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>




  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'