Herd instincts

On a long flight to Austin TX I read most of Mark Earls’ book Herd. I liked it a lot, and am impressed by the breadth of reading and enquiry that has gone into writing it. There’s a nice irony in a book by a planner that does so much to undermine most of the assumptions on which planning seems to rest.

The bit that got me underlining with most enthusiasm is his chapter on “Us Talk” getting away from the marketing paradigm of just broadcasting stuff and recognising the conversation.

Humans have always talked to each other and always will. A lot of what they say is both uncomfortable and irrelevant to business or those in authorities. The truth is that the modern age has just made it easier to do just this (and easier for we students of mass behaviour to observe). It remains profoundly difficult for business to embrace the truth of this – the truth that most conversations are not about you-the-business even when you are paying people to have that conversation.

Shortly after reading this, I saw an ad for some plastics corporation at O’Hare aiport. I didn’t have time to take a picture, but the headline was something like “This year 19m more plastic consumers will be born in China.” With a picture of a Chinese baby to make it clearer. A pretty bizarre example of corporate communications that don’t get this point.

Mark goes on to suggest watching any business meeting and imagine that you are watching apes in suits. The meeting won’t really be about the subject, but a series of conversations around the subject. And that’s not wrong, that’s just natural, I’d add.

Mark makes this argument in the context of a discussion of grooming, which apes do a lot of and which humans are doing, with various degrees of competence, a lot of the time too. This got me re-reading what I wrote about John Clippinger here.

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