Tuesday, 25 June 2019

A second technique for producing ideas

Says James Webb Young, "An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements". And, like balding CDs in trucker hats, this concept is now entrenched in our industry.

The concept metaphorically being that our brains are something like a depository of dots - experiences, impressions, observations and ideas - all waiting to be joined.

This familiar technique is actually called analogy thinking. And, along with ad agencies everywhere becoming increasingly homogenous - being filled with upper-middle class white people on Google, referencing Errol Morris commercials - it helps explain why so much advertising is the same.

We're all using the same technique.

But it's not the only technique. There's a second: 'first principles'. It's a science term also known as ab initio. Latin for: from the beginning.

With this technique you build an idea from the ground up, rather than from an existing experience sideways.

In other words, First principles thinking is the act of boiling a process down to the fundamental truths and reasoning up from there.

In philosophy it's called a priori knowledge, which means knowledge independent of experience. Plato describes it as inherent and intrinsic to the subject.

Just like first principle, it has an antithesis; called a posteriori knowledge, which is defined by its dependancy on experience, or analogy.

And, while a posteriori or analogy thinking is well established in our industry, a priori or first principles thinking is not.

Elon Musk used First Principle thinking for his ground breaking batteries, and we can do the same for ideas. Once you isolate all its elements (or brand assets) you can build your advertising from the bottom up - ab initio.

Whatever execution you come up with from that will be, like Plato said, 'intrinsic' or 'inherent' to the subject. In other words it'll be inexorably salient and ownable by your brand.

Compare that to gratuitously transplanting a brand sideways into something 'cool' you’ve seen on Youtube or (worse) another commercial, and it's easy to see the value of first principles thinking in advertising.

Where analogy thinking promotes derivative, hackneyed ideas. First principles - unshackled by the safety of previous experience - has the power to produce genuinely original and exciting ideas.

Christopher Ott

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