Ideas Based on Bullshit Make more bullshit
An important lesson learned in eleventh grade came back at Boulder Digital Works recently to remind me of its relevance.
The lesson is that ideas, plans, campaigns and arguments must be rooted in truth. Otherwise they are garbage.
A teacher named Joe Zabielski taught me that lesson the first time around in his AP U.S. History class during the fall of 1994. As the first test approached, all of the seniors who had taken the course the previous year warned us the premise of the main essay question would be false. Excuse Me? No Way. This was nothing we had ever come across.
They said, “It’s gonna happen. Be ready.” Twenty of the smartest kids in my grade went in skeptical and then proceeded to bomb the test because the question was very complicated, its premise was indeed false and we had no idea how to answer.
Since we didn’t know how to react and its complexity made us wonder if it was false we put our best bullshitting skills to work and were totally called out. When the tests returned, the cream of Agawam High School’s eleventh grade crop was greeted with 40s, 50s and 60s.
Zabielski inspired me to think deeper than nearly any teacher or professor before or since. Upon returning the exams he said if someone presents you with a question, goal or task that is inherently false you can’t bullshit your way through it. You are obligated to explain why something isn’t true and proceed from that foundation of truth. If an essay, idea or campaign is rooted in bullshit, it will eventually sink.
Fifteen years later, a group of my classmates at Boulder Digital Works faced this same predicament. In a module taught by Peyton Lindley from Effective UI and Ivan Perez Armendariz from CP+B, this group was tasked with developing a social media plan that would increase in store revenue for The GAP.
A social media strategist the group met with told them doing such a thing was essentially impossible (whether you agree or disagree is fodder for another post). Instead of telling their fictional clients what the strategist told them, the group plowed through with their best efforts and came up with a campaign idea they thought would drive people from facebook to The GAP. Though some of their ideas were very cool, no one was convinced they could actually drive customers into the stores.
During their feedback session, the group mentioned the strategist’s warning. Ivan responded by asking, “Why didn’t you tell us that?”
The group wasn’t sure and wished they had. They basically said they were working from the client brief. Ivan and Peyton responded with a lesson similar to the one Zabielski taught the room of 16 year olds all those years ago
If a client asks for something that either isn’t possible or doesn’t fit with their goals, it is an agency’s role to explain why they believe the brief is incorrect and suggest a better plan. This candor can be challenging because it can mean pissing people off or saying no to money, but there is equity in honesty.
Leif Steiner from Moxie Sozo talked recently about this equity at BDW. He spoke about rooting all of his agency’s work, advice and client communication in this foundation of honesty. Leif recalled talking clients out of costly work in favor of more relevant less expensive work. The revenue lost at first came back later when he advised to same client to go a different way on another project that was more expensive but also more realistic and relevant.
From an eleventh grade classroom in the mid 90s to a cutting edge school in the 21st century and out into the real world, the lesson remains the same; ideas, arguments, campaigns and plans are bullshit if they’re not rooted in truth.
CategoriesBoulder Digital Works