Tag "marketing society"
David Wethey thinks AI can’t replace real people, real intelligence and human empathy

We have just moved house.

It has been a major hassle, because we have relocated to another part of the country from where we have lived for many years. Virtually all arrangements have had to be changed: HMRC, bank, utilities, stores, phone and broadband, doctor, TV, credit cards.

We have also acquired a completely new stable of tradesmen, craftsmen, removers, local shops, furniture and carpet suppliers, kitchen and bathroom specialists. And the difference? Staggering. Automated bureaucracy versus the personal touch. When you have been dealing with helpful, talented individuals, whose motivation seems overwhelmingly to offer great service, the frustration with computerised process becomes massive.

Endless keying of email addresses, passwords, multi-digit numbers – and still our instructions are disregarded, we don’t get what we asked for, and it has to be done all over again.

The tech cognoscenti, digital zealots and futurologists are falling over each other to advocate new applications of artificial intelligence. Believe me, I’m not a luddite. But I do feel that the case for applying AI, simply because you can, is something we should challenge.

I have two problems with AI – I don’t accept (based on my experience) that automation necessarily does things better.

Secondly I am not convinced that making people – hundreds of thousands if not millions of people – redundant is a price we should contemplate paying.

What is the point of offering tertiary education to more and more young people if the biggest companies invest heavily in not employing them?

Artificial Intelligence? We should be careful about where we apply it. Let’s hear it for real people, real intelligence and the empathetic, collaborative behaviour that comes from being human.


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‘Ideas are like jokes and gifts’, David Wethey explains.

Researching the world of ideas and creativity for my new book THE VERY IDEA! has been a fascinating experience. I think we’ve all worked out that only a small minority of people in business are what you would call natural and consistent idea generators. My goal in writing the book is to encourage far more executives and managers to liberate their inner creativity, rather than fall back on the brief / feedback / micro-manage / approve routine. I have really enjoyed interviewing the planners, creatives and inventors who come up with the great ideas that drive change and progress. There are some brilliant tips to pass on, and I have every confidence that many of my readers will rise to the challenge and become consistent and prolific ideas people.

There is a ‘but’ however. Not all ideas – even ideas that we think are big ideas – are good and valuable. The same mental process – making connections between what we know already and what we have recently learned from looking at a problem or brief – that triggers powerful, game-changing ideas, can also produce bad and dangerous ideas. That’s why we need the filters and litmus tests that colleagues provide to scotch potentially disastrous flights of fancy. It is no good my egging on everyone to dream up more and more ideas if we have no mechanism for spotting the dangers of a rogue when we still have time to abort and go back to the drawing board.

A popular myth is that there is safety in numbers, in terms of making sure that contentious ideas are exposed to a lot of people to make sure that they won’t lead to disaster.

How different the world would be if that were true!

How much less hazardous life would be if the democratic process (you know elections, referendums and so on) saved us from truly awe-inspiring mistakes like Brexit, Trump or a hung parliament with the balance held by the DUP. There are obviously a myriad examples of one-off bad ideas. But what intrigues me is the bad idea that just gets worse as it plays out and triggers ever worse consequences and side effects.

Take Brexit for instance. The Referendum simply asked voters to decide whether to leave the European Union or remain within it. “Brexit” had a ring to it (more than “Leave”) and the behaviouralists tell us that positive action is instinctively more motivating than just carrying on doing the same old thing. 51.9% voted for Brexit. It’s probably fair to say that the vast majority did not understand what the Brexit idea meant (other than a vague Rule Britannia feeling), or what the short and long term consequences were likely to be. Suffice it to say that no divorce in history was ever so protracted, complicated or expensive. And worse still, Britain doesn’t even have someone else to sleep with.

Ideas are like jokes and gifts. The joke teller and the present giver are the last people to decide whether the joke is funny or the gift hits the spot. Only the recipient can do that. We have all worked out that idea generators are full of ideas. The first one off the production line is pretty unlikely to be the best we can do. We need a reasonable level of choice, and the time to look at pros and cons. Assessing reward and risk are essential to good decision making. Nearly all the politicians campaigning before the Referendum wanted the good bits of Europe without the bits that hacked us all off. The Referendum campaigns on both sides were badly planned and run, with no indication that a vote for Leave would turn into a bungee jump without the bungee.

So why do we allow ourselves to fall for politicians with daft ideas? Is it ignorance, or apathy? Is it the feeling we can’t make a difference? Or as in the case of the EU referendum or the US Presidential Election, is it simply that a choice between just two unattractive options is not really a valid choice at all – unless at least one of the ideas is well articulated?

Both being directly critical and sitting on the fence have a bad name. We are always being urged to make a positive choice – this idea, this candidate. But the next time you are asked to vote for an idea or a person that smells wrong now and could smell a lot worse down the line, tell it as it is, and stay on the fence (eg vote Remain) till something better comes along!


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Surprisingly so do so many of the words associated with generating and developing ideas, for example:

Imagination, inspiration, innovation and invention.
Insight, intuition, intelligence and inclination.
Immersion, inclusion, introspection and interpretation.
Inversion, intervention and intrusion
Infusion, immersion and implosion.
Illusion, impression and illustration.

There are more. It’s almost uncanny.

There’s an urban myth that being an ‘ideas person’ is a highly differentiated ability, confined to very few people.

Having been researching the amazing world of ideas for some time now for my new book THE VERY IDEA!, I am convinced it is untrue. We are all wired to come up with ideas, share ideas, and develop ideas. How else would we be able to navigate the complicated world away from work? How could we solve problems and spot opportunities? How could we think laterally and surprise family and friends? It is the facility that all of us have to produce and embrace ideas that makes us what we are.

So it’s no coincidence that idea starts with I. Or that all those words above that describe some idea-related activity or process also start with ‘I’. Every one of us is an ‘I’ – however hard sometimes it is to believe it, when our individuality seems to be marginalised by the pressures of the world of work. There may be no ‘I’ in team, as the cliché goes. But when it comes to thinking and being creative, to start with at least, it’s just me and my brain.

Having said all of this, two heads ARE better than one. Two people is the human world’s most effective and blissful coupling. Just imagine. Double that idea capacity. Double all those other ’I’ abilities. When have you ever shared an idea with a colleague, partner and friend, and not been stimulated and inspired to look at this aspect differently, to see more potential in that one?

But that doesn’t mean five or six heads are necessarily better than one. Frequently having more people in a meeting results in more egos, more hot air, less clarity and less progress.

If the meeting hasn’t delivered, go back to you and your brain, get the ideas flowing, use some of the ‘I’ words, and when you are ready, add a friend and his/her brain. You won’t go far wrong!

Image: Stockimo |


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2017 is my year of the idea. Having researched and written endlessly and passionately about decision making and meetings for the last six years, I am now going to be concentrating on the rocket fuel for both Smart Decision Making and the Mote Meeting System – powerful ideas.
I am fascinated by how we come up with ideas, how we share them by thinking together, how we develop them, and how we use them to achieve the outcomes and successes that business continually challenges us to achieve. It’s a big subject!

I am also fascinated by the other side of the coin – the times when we should have had a great idea, but didn’t. Also interested in the times we had the germ of a great idea, but didn’t succeed in selling it or exploiting it. That is why I have asked you the question in the headline. Can you think of occasions when your business or personal life might have been transformed if only you’d had a killer idea or successfully pitched it? What went wrong? Was it your fault – or someone else’s? Was there anything more – or different – that you could have done?

If love is what makes the world go round, ideas are truly what enable us to understand it and change it. We live in a world of big money, big numbers and big data. Yet individuals – even very powerful ones – can’t have much influence over the money, the numbers and the data.

How very different with ideas! We can’t solve problems (or even understand them) without ideas. We cannot appreciate opportunities, let alone realise them, without ideas. We need ideas to take to meetings. In the meetings we have to contribute to the refinement and finessing of ideas. When we are part of a decision making team we must treat ideas as the raw material for solutions, outcomes and transformations.

There is an urban myth that only some of us are capable of coming up with any ideas, let alone great, game-changing ones. I have been extensively researching and trawling for insights among academics, business gurus, philosophers and psychologists. I believe strongly that we all can be idea generators, idea sharers, idea developers, and idea communicators. We just have to have confidence, and take some tips on board – the most important of which is that thinking together in a team is just as valuable a skill as dreaming up original ideas in the bath.

A lifetime in advertising has given me a deep respect for ideas, without which marketers can’t make their brands successful and competitive. But admen use the idea word both for ingredients (the ‘big idea’ in a pitch) and the finished dish. There is usually a lot of hard work in between the eureka moment and the awards ceremony. To become a true idea-meister we need put the same priority on the plated dish as on the promising ingredient. We also need to have as much respect for your idea and their idea as ‘my idea’.

And there is invaluable learning for us all from the missed opportunities, the botched decisions and the ideas we never had.
This is David’s Marketing Society blog for January 2017. Read more at

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  1. Five months on, can you think of a single advantage in Brexit?
  2. Do you have any warm feelings towards Teresa May’s Government? Or for that matter towards any grouping in the House of Commons?
  3. How could America have elected Trump?
  4. Have any of the big Christmas ads knocked your socks off?
  5. Are you going to put up with yet another year of spending half your working life in conference rooms?

Sadly it is beyond the power of the British and American people to reverse the Brexit and Trump votes. That’s democracy for you. All that foreplay. All that climactic excitement. And the next morning it’s all sadness and regret. The people who voted ‘out’ and for the Donald have to live with the consequences of what they have done. Unfortunately, so has everyone else

Is it really surprising that we have all fallen out of love with politics and politicians? At least with brands and football teams you have some idea of what to expect. But what are we to make of a Conservative Party that suddenly seems to be against all the things it used to be in favour of? A Labour Party that is deliberately making itself unelectable? Lib Dems who have collapsed from Coalition to the fringes? UKIP winning one seat with nearly 4m votes, while the SNP got 56 with less than 1.5m?

I’ll also be honest and admit that I am allergic to the synthetic association between celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and the giants of the High Street and Shopping Malls. Who knows? You may sympathise with my views.

But if it’s meeting madness and ennui that bugs you, I am your man – and there is something we can all do about it. For a couple of years I have been banging on about MOTE: The Super Meeting. Conventional business meetings are a waste of time and money. People know it and want something better.

Either persuade your company to try out Mote, and enjoy fewer, leaner, better prepared, more productive meetings. You and your colleagues will have a far better life/work balance, get your real work done in the working day, and amaze partners and family.
Or become a Motivator – a one person ambassador for the Spirit of Mote.

  1. Remind everyone that unproductive meetings cost a fortune
  2. And eat into both work and leisure time
  3. Decline any meetings that won’t achieve anything
  4. Refuse to participate in back to backs
  5. Encourage meeting organisers to strictly ration the number of people attending. You only want contributors
  6. Prepare incredibly thoroughly for any meetings you accept
  7. Be a star and a delight at every meeting
  8. Think ‘team’
  9. Motivate everyone ‎to do the same
  10. Towards the end of the meeting insist that everyone agrees ‎what has been achieved, and what needs to be done next time.

This is David’s Marketing Society blog for December. Read more at

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Don’t beat yourself up if you have an off day. We are surprised when we fail to hit the heights at something we are normally good at. We didn’t make the sale. I didn’t get the job. We lost the match.

We shouldn’t be surprised. We are humans not robots. There are days when it doesn’t work out – sometimes because we’ve goofed, but often because of competitive pressure or outside factors. Remember when we used to get excited about biorhythms? Perhaps I was having a triple critical last Thursday.

Why have I gone all philosophical this month? Partly because of my commitment to Mote, and reminding everyone that meetings should be a team game, where we compensate for individual weaknesses by picking balanced teams to maximise the chances of success. But partly because – after many decades – I think I have finally come to terms with the fact that I play bad golf as often (or more so) as good golf. I was starting to dread playing in case I had a bad day. Now I’m telling myself just to enjoy the exercise, the company and just being out there swishing in the fresh air!

After all kids learn to walk, not by standing up, but by falling over. We learn more from mistakes than when we get it right. Winning feels good, but we don’t always know why we have won. If we lose, it is useful – as well as therapeutic – to find out why. I’ve always offered agencies post mortem sessions to try and explain why they didn’t win the pitch. They might well have missed out because of poor chemistry or creative that the client didn’t like. Very often on the other hand they haven’t won because another agency performed better. Blaming the timing, the venue, or the unfair client can be a natural reaction. But it’s not helpful – any more than having a go at the referee or umpire.

What is a problem is losing the war, not the battle. There’s a difference between a poor press conference and a failed launch. Losing a sale is a not as bad as losing a customer. A bad meeting is bearable – being fired by a client less so. And this is where failing and not beating yourself up pays off. You can learn – and live to fight another day.

Kipling was write about treating the twin impostors – Triumph and Disaster – exactly the same. I’d just add that being a bit less excited about triumph, and a lot less depressed about disaster could be really helpful. Why do I know this? Because I have always been the worst offender.
This is David’s July article for the Marketing Society.

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We know all about presentations in marketing and advertising. Even if we aren’t too hot at French, and haven’t learned to code, we are all pretty fluent in PowerPoint. Yes, I know everyone says they hate PowerPoint, but we use it all the time, and how else can you do credentials or show the new strategy?
At AAI I have nearly 28 years’ experience of watching agencies present their credentials and pitch for new business. What insights and understanding has it given me? The main problem, as I see it, is that agencies (and it’s true of virtually everyone who presents to sell in business) only tend to concentrate on one aspect of the presentation – the input bit. All efforts are directed at the impactful opening, assembling the meat in the middle, crafting the segues, and finishing on a high note. So what is there to go wrong?
Even if the whole 58 MB has been meticulously prepared and punctuated with standout video and motion graphics, it is sadly not want you put into the presentation that matters. It’s what the audience takes out of it. This is another of those input/output/outcome challenges – like advertising or mass entertainment. We can say something telling, and say it brilliantly, but the success (or otherwise) of the presentation depends squarely on the guys across the table.
It’s like food. You can chuck in all the fancy ingredients, and follow the preparation and cooking instructions to the letter, but either the dish has appetite appeal, or it doesn’t. And the chef is not the final arbiter of that. The customer is.
At Harvard University these days, the hottest ticket is Michael Puett, Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. How so? His lectures are sold out, and attended by students of many other disciplines, because Puett is spreading the teachings of Confucius and other Chinese philosophers from 2500 years ago about how even our smallest gestures and habits can mould our destiny, and influence others. Better still, he shows his students how they can change their behaviours (facial expressions, mannerisms, actions and words) to be more likable and therefore more successful. He advocates trying new things and new ways, as opposed to the traditional advice to ‘stick with what you’re good at’. He’s a big enthusiast for smiling, and not defaulting to looking serious or severe. He urges people to be far more self aware about those of our habits, expressions, and phrases that irritate or grate on even our nearest and dearest. In the West, we are taught to be clever, skilled, and full of rationality and knowledge. Puett promises to change his students’ lives by persuading them to concentrate instead on what they might think are the secondary and trivial signals they send.
Take these insights from distant millennia into the world of pitch and present, and what is the learning? For a start it gives new ammunition to the emotional intelligence movement. Beldoch and Goleman and their followers have been criticised by some of their fellow psychologists, but the early Chinese behavioural gurus provide convincing evidence for EI and EQ.
More specifically Puett’s teaching suggests that just as we know the importance of personality profiling (our own, our colleagues and those we seek to influence or sell to), we should also submit to merciless appraisal of how we come across in action. Pitch doctors need to get up close and personal. Team mates should agree to be both frank and less sensitive with each other. Winning behaviour needs to be encouraged. Annoying habits have to be acknowledged and, if possible, cured.
It’s not just what the audience feel about the presentation. It’s very much about what they feel about the team and individuals who are delivering it. We’ve always known about chemistry and gut feel. Professor Puett is telling us why we should take them very seriously indeed.

This is David Wethey’s May blog for the Marketing Society. To see more go to

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